UN school never attacked by Israel in Gaza op

Globe and Mail:

Most people remember the headlines: Massacre Of Innocents As UN School Is Shelled; Israeli Strike Kills Dozens At UN School.

They heralded the tragic news of Jan. 6, when mortar shells fired by advancing Israeli forces killed 43 civilians in the Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. The victims, it was reported, had taken refuge inside the Ibn Rushd Preparatory School for Boys, a facility run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

The news shocked the world and was compared to the 1996 Israeli attack on a UN compound in Qana, Lebanon, in which more than 100 people seeking refuge were killed. It was certain to hasten the end of Israel's attack on Gaza, and would undoubtedly lead the list of allegations of war crimes committed by Israel.

There was just one problem: The story, as etched in people's minds, was not quite accurate.

Physical evidence and interviews with several eyewitnesses, including a teacher who was in the schoolyard at the time of the shelling, make it clear: While a few people were injured from shrapnel landing inside the white-and-blue-walled UNRWA compound, no one in the compound was killed. The 43 people who died in the incident were all outside, on the street, where all three mortar shells landed.

Stories of one or more shells landing inside the schoolyard were inaccurate.

While the killing of 43 civilians on the street may itself be grounds for investigation, it falls short of the act of shooting into a schoolyard crowded with refuge-seekers.

The teacher who was in the compound at the time of the shelling says he heard three loud blasts, one after the other, then a lot of screaming. "I ran in the direction of the screaming [inside the compound]," he said. "I could see some of the people had been injured, cut. I picked up one girl who was bleeding by her eye, and ran out on the street to get help."But when I got outside, it was crazy hell. There were bodies everywhere, people dead, injured, flesh everywhere."

The teacher, who refused to give his name because he said UNRWA had told the staff not to talk to the news media, was adamant: "Inside [the compound] there were 12 injured, but there were no dead."

"Three of my students were killed," he said. "But they were all outside."

Hazem Balousha, who runs an auto-body shop across the road from the UNRWA school, was down the street, just out of range of the shrapnel, when the three shells hit. He showed a reporter where they landed: one to the right of his shop, one to the left, and one right in front.

"There were only three," he said. "They were all out here on the road."

...

John Ging, UNRWA's operations director in Gaza, acknowledged in an interview this week that all three Israeli mortar shells landed outside the school and that "no one was killed in the school."

"I told the Israelis that none of the shells landed in the school," he said.

Why would he do that?

"Because they had told everyone they had returned fire from gunmen in the school. That wasn't true."

...

I think it is clear that they were returning fire from people in the area and it was probably directed by counter battery radar. I suspect the Israelis were somewhat gun shy from the effects of previous Hamas victim strategies and got a story out before it could be verified. But now that the facts are out how many in the media will be issuing corrections? My guess is not many, since this Gobe and Mail story is the only one I have seen on it.

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