Senior UN Official: Hamas Fires Rockets ‘From the Vicinity of U.N. Facilities’

Patrick Goodenough | July 31, 2014 | 4:06am EDT
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A displaced Palestinian child waves from inside a damaged classroom at the Abu Hussein U.N.-run school in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, July 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

( – A senior U.N. official who has served in the Gaza Strip and is a longstanding critic of Israeli policies there acknowledged Thursday that Hamas and other terrorist groups were firing weapons “from the vicinity of U.N. facilities” located in the territory.

“The armed groups are firing their rockets into Israel from the vicinity of U.N. facilities and residential areas, absolutely,” John Ging told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Ging said the situation for civilians in Gaza was dire.

“They most definitely want to get out of the line of fire but again, as we are finding time and again, they’re getting caught up – even in U.N. facilities which they think should be safe.”

“But let’s also be clear,” he continued. “The militants, Hamas and the other armed groups, they’re firing also their weapon– their weaponry, their rockets into Israel from the vicinity of these [U.N.] installations, and housing and so on. So the combat is being conducted very much in a residential, built-up area.”

Ging was speaking on a day when Israel faced heavy condemnation after artillery shells struck a school administered by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which was being used as a shelter by Palestinians displaced by the fighting. Health officials in the Hamas-run government said at least 17 people were killed in the incident.

The Israeli military said it had not intentionally targeted a U.N. facility, but had responded to mortar shells fired by militants from the vicinity of the school.

Ging, an Irish national, served as UNRWA director in Gaza from 2006 to 2011 and is now the director of the operational division of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In the CBC interview he was highly critical of Israel’s conduct of its military operation against Hamas, and said “all sides in this conflict” will ultimately be held accountable for their actions.

Interviewer Evan Solomon asked about repeated Israeli assertions that terrorists have been storing weapons in U.N. schools and hospitals, adding “I know three U.N.-run schools have been found with munitions stored in them, as weapons depots.”

“In the U.N.’s experience, is Hamas – or militant groups, Islamic Jihad – are they launching rockets nearby these shelters, these U.N. schools?” he asked.

“Yes,” Ging replied. ““The armed groups are firing their rockets into Israel from the vicinity of U.N. facilities and residential areas, absolutely.”

Ging stressed that in the case where terrorists’ weapons had been found in U.N. schools, those schools had not been operating as schools at the time, having been evacuated for safety reasons.

“When we recovered those schools the U.N. were the ones who found the weapons in their inspections, because we have zero tolerance and a very high degree of responsibility to ensure that nothing is stored in our schools like weapons, and no armed people are in these facilities.”

Ging did not mention – and was not asked about – Israeli claims that when the U.N. did find rockets in a U.N. school for the first time earlier this month, it had essentially handed them over to Hamas. UNRWA said at the time it asked “local police,” to remove the rockets.

Hamas controls Gaza, and State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on July 22 that handing the rockets to “local police” had not been “an acceptable outcome.” She said the U.S. was consulting with the U.N., Israel and the Palestinian Authority “to develop better options available in the event of future incidents.”

On Thursday, White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said the administration was “extremely concerned that the thousands of internally displaced Palestinians, who have been called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes, are not safe in these U.N.-designated shelters in Gaza.”

“We also condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in the United Nations facilities in Gaza,” he told reporters traveling with the president back to Washington on Air Force One. “All of these actions violate the international understanding of the U.N.’s neutrality.”

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