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UN urges protection of Palestinian children, Israel sees 'systematic' bias

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon 'deeply alarmed at the suffering of so many children as a result of Israeli military operations in Gaza last year'
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gives a statement during his visit at Kibbutz Nirim near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, on 14 October, 2014 (AFP)

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Israel on Thursday to protect the lives of Palestinian children, who bore the brunt of last year's military operations in Gaza.

"Last year was one of the worst in recent memory for children in countries affected by conflict," the UN leader said, adding he is "deeply alarmed at the suffering of so many children as a result of Israeli military operations in Gaza last year."

He made his remarks as the UN issued a new report highlighting what Ban called "unprecedented challenges for children in conflict zones around the world."

The UN leader said that last year was particularly lethal for children in Gaza, where more than 500 perished.

The United Nations has accused the Israeli army of being responsible for strikes on buildings where civilians were sheltering during the conflict.

At the height of the Gaza conflict, some 300,000 displaced Palestinians were sheltering in some 91 UN schools, several of which were hit by Israeli strikes.

"I urge Israel to take concrete and immediate steps, including by reviewing existing policies and practices, to protect and prevent the killing and maiming of children, and to respect the special protections afforded to schools and hospitals," the UN leader said.

'Widespread, systematic and institutionalised' UN bias

In a letter addressed to Ban, Israel's UN ambassador Ron Prosor pushed back against the charges, accusing Leila Zerrougui, the UN's special representative of the secretary general for children and armed conflict, of "widespread, systematic and institutionalised biased conduct against Israel."

Prosor said Hamas - the blockaded territory's de facto rulers - were to blame for Gaza casualties involving non-combatants, and accused it of having "used Palestinian civilians, including children, as human shields" during the fighting.

Despite Thursday's admonitions from Ban, the United Nations has not included Israel on a list of countries singled out for violating the rights of children.

Last year's war killed 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 73 on the Israeli side, 67 of them soldiers.

Israel maintains that it needed to target those facilities because Palestinian fighters were using the areas to store weapons and fire rockets.

The international community has called for an end to Israel's blockade of Gaza, now in its ninth year, which puts tight restrictions on the entry of building material through the goods crossing Israel controls.

Israel however says it fears building materials could be used by Hamas to build weapons and attack tunnels.

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