UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. agencies in Israel and the Palestinian territories reported an alarming number of child victims in last year’s war in the Gaza Strip but were split on whether Israel should be put on a list of violators of children’s rights, a U.N. document shows.
Their 22-page confidential country report, obtained by Reuters on Friday, was prepared by United Nations agencies on the ground for submission to the U.N. special envoy for children and armed conflict as she readied a draft of the annual list.
The special envoy, Leila Zerrougui of Algeria, included Israel’s army and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the draft she sent to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has final say on the list, U.N. sources have said.
More than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed in the conflict, while 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed. The country report said some 540 children were reportedly killed, 371 of them 12 years old or younger.
The U.N. agencies’ country report, which was sent to Zerrougui to help her prepare her decision on whether to include Israel and Palestinian armed groups in her draft list to be passed on to Ban, has used strong language on alleged violations of children’s rights in the Gaza war.
It specified what it said were unlawful deaths and injuries of Palestinian children caused by Israeli forces, detention of Palestinian children and attacks on schools. It said more information was needed on the question of recruitment of children by Palestinian armed groups.
However, in a section that would appear to undermine the case for listing Israel, the country report said the heads of the U.N. agencies on the ground had failed to reach a consensus on whether to list Israel.
It said it was “not clear how the listing criteria should be applied and whether they had been satisfied.”
Diplomats say the final version of the list, which names grave violators of children’s rights in armed conflicts, could reach U.N. member states as early as the beginning of next week.
Whether to include the Jewish state is a politically charged issue for Israel and the United States. Some U.S. lawmakers have spoken out on the issue and Republican presidential hopeful Senator Ted Cruz wrote to Ban about it this week.
U.N. diplomatic sources told Reuters that Israel has lobbied hard against its inclusion and that Ban was leaning against including Israel. Diplomats said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power had urged Ban not to list Israel.
Ban has also received information from human rights groups, including New York-based Human Rights Watch, which issued a statement this week urging the U.N. not to give in pressure to keep Israel off the list.
Israel’s U.N. mission did not have an immediate response to the country report.
A U.N. inquiry published in April said Israeli soldiers had fired on seven U.N. schools during the Gaza war, killing 44 Palestinians who were sheltered at some of the sites, while Palestinian fighters hid weapons and launched attacks from several empty U.N. schools.
While Zerrougui’s report was being prepared, diplomatic sources told Reuters U.N. agency chiefs had felt pressured by Israel not to support including the Israeli army. Israel has said it should not be listed but denied pressuring anyone.
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by David Storey and Jeremy Laurence