Joe Lauria, Joshua Mitnick
The Wall Street Journal (Analysis)
January 8, 2010 - 1:00am

UNITED NATIONS -- Israel agreed to pay the U.N. $10.5 million in compensation for damage to U.N. property and for the life of a U.N. driver during Israel's war last winter in Gaza, according to two U.N. officials.

"Agreement has been reached in principle on the terms of an arrangement under which Israel would make a payment to the United Nations," said Martin Nesirky, the U.N. spokesman. "The United Nations is now waiting for a green light from the government of Israel and we anticipate receiving that green light imminently."

Mr. Nesirky said the U.N. submitted a claim for reimbursement to the Israeli foreign ministry in July "for the losses that the United Nations has sustained in a number of incidents during the Gaza conflict."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak discussed the payments by phone this week, Mr. Nesirky said.

Mr. Ban, who was in Israel during one of the incidents, demanded $11.2 million from Israel for damage to two U.N. schools and a World Food Program warehouse in Gaza City. The family of a driver of a U.N. truck, who the U.N. says was killed as a result of Israeli fire, would be compensated from the total amount, a U.N. official said.

It wasn't expected that Israel would accompany the payment with an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, said the official. Israel has said that the damage to U.N. property was a result of collateral damage, claiming Gazan militants were fighting near the properties. The U.N. has denied that militants were in the area of the warehouse and the two schools.

The payment would mark the first time Israel has agreed to compensate anyone in Gaza during the 3½-week war that killed about 1,400 Gazans and left behind billions of dollars in destroyed infrastructure before ending in January 2009.

Israel said it launched Operation Cast Lead to stop rocket fire from inside Gaza to civilian areas of Israel. Four Israelis died during the conflict.

On Thursday, Gaza militants shot at least seven mortars, one antitank rocket and one Qassam missile into southern Israel. Israel closed a commercial crossing into Gaza after one of the mortars landed near the complex. An army spokeswoman said the Thursday barrage was one of the worst since the end of the Gaza war.

Though Israel blames Hamas for the destruction of the U.N. properties, it is seeking to improve ties with the U.N., which have been severely strained by the incidents. Mr. Ban harshly condemned Israel for the attacks at the time.

Shlomo Dror, an Israeli defense ministry spokesman, said Israel recognizes that U.N. aid agencies in Gaza are a bulwark against a humanitarian crisis.

Israel sent a delegation to New York last month to meet with Security Council ambassadors considering a U.N. report that accuses both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the war.

South African jurist Richard Goldstone headed the commission that issued the report, which calls on both Israel and Hamas to conduct credible independent investigations or have their cases sent to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The Israeli delegation told the ambassadors that a number of prosecutions of Israeli soldiers had occurred based on information in the Goldstone report.

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