The U.N. secretary-general sharply criticized Israel Monday for the deaths of 557 Palestinian children, most of them during last summer’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip. In an annual report on the impact of conflict on children, Ban Ki-moon kept Israel off the official list of violators, but reproached it for “the unprecedented and unacceptable scale” of the impact its military operations had on Palestinian children.
Israel’s seven-week long war in Gaza killed over 2,200 people, mainly Palestinians. The Israel Defense Forces launched the offensive last July to cripple Hamas militants from firing rockets indiscriminately into its territory.
In an earlier draft of the U.N. report written by Ban’s Special Representative for Children and Conflict, Israel and Hamas were both reported to be included in the annex - which names and shames the worst violators. Neither party appeared in Monday’s final report sent to members of the Security Council, which Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch attributed to political pressure.
“We believe that both groups deserve to be on that list if you look at the facts on the ground. But sadly, in this case it appears that political pressure has prevailed. Frankly, we were expecting better from a U.N. secretary-general who has promised to put human rights up front on the U.N. agenda," said Bolopion.
Ban’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, did not appear to deny that member states had pressed for Israel to be left off the annex.
“Member states have never been shy in expressing their opinion to the secretary-general about what should be in or out of the report, whether it’s this report this year or in the previous years," said Dujarric.
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor said the U.N. chief was right not to include Israel on the list, and urged him to condemn Hamas and other armed groups operating in Gaza as terrorist organizations.
Although not in the annex, the body of the report details Israeli violations against Palestinian children, noting that more children were killed in Gaza in 2014 than even in Syria’s brutal civil war.
Ban said during the 50-day-long Gaza conflict, nearly 3,000 Palestinian children were injured and as many as a thousand of them may be permanently disabled. Those killed died in Israeli air and drone strikes, mortar shelling and by gunfire.
Thirty-two hospitals were damaged and more than 500 schools were damaged or destroyed, including seven run by the U.N. that were being used as civilian shelters.
The report says four Israeli children were killed and 22 injured. Ban reproached Hamas’ military wing for allegedly trying to recruit Arab children to its ranks.
Ban urged Israel to take “concrete and immediate steps” to protect children and prevent them being maimed or killed.
The groups who did make the list for recruiting, killing and raping children, as well as attacking schools and hospitals, included the self-styled Islamic State, the Taliban, the Afghan National police and numerous African rebel groups.