UN chief wants full investigation into school bombings

After visiting the still-smouldering UN compound in Gaza, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the scenes as "heartbreaking". He calls for full accountability over the bombings of UN-run buildings and schools.


AFP - UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday called for those responsible for the bombing of UN-run buildings and schools in Gaza to be held accountable following Israel's 22-day war on Hamas.

"It is an outrageous and totally unacceptable attack on the United Nations," Ban said, speaking outside the still-smouldering main UN compound in Gaza City that was bombed during the war.

"There must be a full investigation, a full explanation to make sure it never happens again. There should be accountability through a proper judiciary system," he said.

Ban, describing the scenes in post-war Gaza "heartbreaking," became the first world leader to visit the enclave since Israel halted the deadliest offensive it has ever launched on the Palestinian territory, which has been ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement since June 2007.

The UN compound where he spoke was hit by Israeli shells on January 15, setting a warehouse alight, burning tonnes of badly needed food aid and sending a massive column of black smoke into the air above Gaza City for hours.

Another four UN buildings -- schools where Gazans were sheltering from the fighting -- were struck by Israel in the course of the fighting. More than 40 people were killed in one such attack, according to medics and UN officials.

"I'm just appalled. I'm not able to decribe how I'm feeling, having seen this site of the bombing of the United Nations compound. Everyone is now smelling, this morning, still, it is still burning," Ban said.

"I have protested many times and today I am protesting again in the strongest terms and condemning it. I have asked for a full investigation and to make those responsible people accountable."

Ban went on to accuse Israel of using "excessive force" in the conflict, but he also condemned Palestinian rocket fire on southern Israel, calling it  "completely unacceptable."

Israel has said it made very effort to prevent the deaths of civilians and said it was fired upon from inside or near each of the UN sites in question, a charge often disputed by UN workers.

After touring the scenes of devastation left by the three-week-long campaign in which Israel pummelled the territory with air strikes and tanks shells and destroyed thousands of houses, Ban said he had seen "heart-breaking scenes."

The UN chief said a "massive international effort" would be required to resolve the Middle East conflict and create a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel, saying he was "more determined than ever to see this achieved."

More than 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the offensive, nearly a third of them children, according to Palestinian medics. Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians were killed over the same period.

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