Israeli inquiry finds U.S. school courtyard was empty when mortar hit

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A mortar fired by Israeli troops in the direction of a United Nations school in Gaza, did not cause casualties as was widely reported, Israel’s military said.

The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday issued a report on an inquiry into the incident on Thursday, in which a school in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza affiliated with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency was hit by mortar fire.

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Reports following the incident said at least 15 people were killed and 200 injured.

The IDF inquiry found that Hamas operatives fired anti-tank missiles at IDF soldiers, who then responded by firing several mortars in their direction. One errant mortar landed on the courtyard of the school, the IDF found, while the courtyard was completely empty.

“The IDF stresses it does not operate or target international organizations in the Gaza Strip, and the ongoing coordination conducted via the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) is continuous without change, even during times of combat,” the IDF statement said.

“In light of the inquiry’s findings, the IDF rejects the claims that were made by various officials immediately following the incident, that people were killed in the school premises as a result of IDF operational activity.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “strongly condemned” the shelling, while acknowledging that “circumstances are still unclear,” in a statement issued hours after the incident.

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