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From the field

Attack on UNRWA school firing of indiscriminate weapon

Update: On 13 May 2013 the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem that on 13 May 2012 a decision was made not to launch an MPIU investigation on the grounds that “the firing in the area had taken place on justified operational grounds and carried out properly in response to effective mortar fire targeting an IDF force”. Click here for more information.

On 6 January, the Israeli army fired a mortar shell at an UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip, which was serving as a shelter for civilians who had fled from their homes following air force bombings. According to various reports, more than thirty civilians were killed as a result of the shelling.

Today, 11 January, Ha'aretz reported that the army had conducted a preliminary inquiry into the incident. The report indicated that rocket fire from a building next to the school had been identified. For unclear reasons, firing from the air “was not possible” so the decision was made to direct fire “towards the source of the shooting.” The standard deviation of these mortar shells is a few dozen meters. Soldiers fired three shells, one of them hitting the school. Army officers told Ha'aretz that, in retrospect, “the choice of the means of response was faulty,” and that the army should have used a precise weapon. It was also reported that apparently, the school was marked on maps that had been given to paratroopers operating in the area.

B'Tselem demands that the lessons of the inquiry be implemented immediately. A standard deviation of a few dozen meters in the densely populated Gaza Strip is liable to result in dozens of civilian casualties. Under these circumstances, a weapon with this range of deviation constitutes a weapon that does not distinguish between civilian and military objects. Accordingly, it violates the principle of distinction in international humanitarian law and its use must be absolutely prohibited.