At daily briefing reporter confronts State Department over criticism of Israel

State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner

The US government has said that the apparently accidental bombing of an hospital run by medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres in the Afghan city of Kunduz, which killed at least 19 people and wounded dozens more, was a “tragic incident,” but has refrained from condemning the attack as “the facts are still emerging” and it is still under investigation.

During the daily State Department press briefing, American reporter from Associated Press Matthew Lee recalled that the State Department had issued a “very, very strong” statement after an Israeli shell hit an UNWRA school in the Gaza Strip close to where terrorist gunmen were operating during Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in the summer of 2014.

During last year’s Operation Protective Edge, during which the IDF battled Islamist terrorists in Gaza to put an end to the threat of rocket fire and terrorist infiltration tunnels targeting its citizens, Israel faced the usual tide of criticism for its use of force despite unprecedented measures to limit civilian casualties.

The reporter quoted State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki’s criticism of the incident in Gaza at the time: “The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering some 3,000 displaced persons, in which at least ten more Palestinian civilians were tragically killed.”

“The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians. We call for a full and prompt investigation of this incident as well as the recent shelling of other UNRWA schools.”

Responding to Lee’s question, State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said the Kunduz incident was the subject of multiple investigations, and that the facts were still unclear. Toner added that the US military encourages all governments to take “every measure possible to avoid civilian casualties”.

Unsatisfied with this answer, Lee pressed further: “What I’m most curious about is that this statement said the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes, which – and the military has said that it was called in because the Afghans asked for it,” he said. “But MSF says that they had been given the coordinates much in the same way the IDF had been given the coordinates of the school in Rafah. So the question is – and I realize this is under investigation. But the question is if – the question is: If the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes on a humanitarian facility for which the coordinates had been given, that it seems to have changed.”

Toner refrained from providing a definitive answer to this question, saying instead: “I would only just reiterate our sincere condolences to the victims of this attack and just again underscore the fact that we’re going to investigate this thoroughly. And as I said, once those investigations are complete, we’re going to take steps to – either to hold any responsible parties accountable or to take measures that avoid any kind of accident like this in the future.”