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UN issues retraction over Gaza school bombing -

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Reporter: David Mark

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The United Nations has backed down from a claim that a UN run school in Gaza was
hit during an Israeli mortar attack last month.

Forty-three people were reportedly killed in the attack.

But a clarification issued by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs says the
shelling and all the casualties happened outside the school.

At the time of the attack there was a barrage of international condemnation directed at Israel.

David Mark reports.

DAVID MARK: It was the most controversial incident of the three week Gaza War.

On 6th January, reports emerged that an Israel mortar had hit a school run by the United Nations
Relief and Works Agency.

The School was sheltering hundreds of woman and children at the time - 43 were killed and more than
100 were injured.

On the day the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that three
artillery shells landed outside the school but the story quickly became confused.

At the time a spokeswoman for the Israeli Defence Force, Major Avital Leibovitz, defended the
action without denying that the strike was aimed at the school.

AVITAL LEIBOVITZ: The information that we have is that there was the launching of a mortar from the
school's yard towards one of our forces. Our forces retaliated but it turned out that the school
was booby trapped and as a result of our retaliation, everything flared up. There were a lot of
secondary explosions from which probably those people were wounded.

DAVID MARK: A spokesman for UN's Relief and Works Agency, Chris Gunness, rejected that claim -
without clarifying whether or not the mortars actually landed on the school.

CHRIS GUNNESS: We are 99.9 per cent certain that there were no militants, no militant activity in
the school building or in the compound. If anyone has any information that contradicts that, could
they please come forward? Can their information please be part of an impartial investigation?

DAVID MARK: On the day after the attack, the United Nations put out another situation report that
left little doubt that the strikes were aimed at the school:

(Extract from United Nations situation report)

READER: The UN Relief and Works Agency reported that there were 43 fatalities and approximately 100
injuries due to the shelling of the UNRWA school in Jabalia on January 6.

The UN Secretary General characterised these acts as "totally unacceptable".

(End of extract)

DAVID MARK: Now the United Nations has issued a clarification.

The initial report on the day of the attack was right after all.

The UN's latest situation report reads"

(Extract from United Nations situation report)

READER: The humanitarian coordinator would like to clarify that the shelling, and all of the
fatalities, took place outside rather than inside the school.

(End of extract)

DAVID MARK: The Head of the UN's Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, John Ging, says the clarification
came about because of an error in the situation report published the day after the attack.

JOHN GING: There is no change in the reporting that we have done here about that tragic incident.
The facts that we presented at the time are still the facts that we are presenting today, and there
were many changes in the Israeli reactions and information put out by various spokespeople.

DAVID MARK: But the CEO of the Jewish Board of Deputies in Sydney Vic Alhadeff, sees things

VIC ALHADEFF: Israel's position is what has not been entirely vindicated. At the time a senior UN
spokesman Chris Gunness was interviewed on television together with an Israeli Government
spokesperson and he went very close to accusing Israel intentionally permitting, committing an
atrocity at the school and now Gunness himself, this UN official himself, has admitted that no-one
was killed at the school. That Israeli fire did not hit the school and that Hamas fire has come
from close to the school and Israel had returned fire to those Hamas positions.

Unfortunately that the truth has not been conveyed with the same vigor which the original fasle
accusations were received.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The chief executive the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies Vic Alhadeff,
ending David Mark's report.