The United Nations on Monday released a "List of Shame" of children's rights violators but did not include Israel, despite an outcry over the death of more than 500 children in the Gaza war.
Rights groups had called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to add Israel to the list, and there was much debate among UN agencies ahead of the final decision that rested with the UN chief.
Ban decided that last year's list would remain unchanged, but said he was "deeply alarmed" by the "grave violations suffered by children as a result of Israeli military operations in 2014."
"The unprecedented and unacceptable scale of the impact on children in 2014 raises grave concerns about Israel's compliance with international humanitarian law, notably the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in attack, and respect for international human rights law, particularly in relation to excessive use of force," he said.
The UN chief cited a "dramatic increase" in the number of children killed in Israel and in the Palestinian territories in 2014.
At least 561 children (557 Palestinian, four Israeli) were killed and 4,271 injured (4,249 Palestinian and 22 Israeli) last year.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric stressed that "the report is more than the list" and that the document lays out concerns about the plight of children in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor said Ban "was right not to submit to the dictates of the terrorist organizations and the Arab states, in his decision not to include Israel in this shameful list, together with organizations like ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban," using an acronym by which the Islamic State is known.
- Political pressure -
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The decision was roundly criticized by the Palestinians.
"The failure to list Israel as a violator of child rights, when it so clearly meets the criteria, will only further embolden such impunity, resulting in more suffering for innocent Palestinian children," said Palestinian representative Riyad Mansour.
Human Rights Watch had called on Ban to add Israel and the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas to the list, which calls on listed countries and groups to take measures to protect children.
HRW regretted the "disappointing" decision and noted that the UN envoy for children in conflict, Algerian Leila Zerrougui, had recommended that Israel and Hamas be blacklisted.
"Facts and consistency dictated that both be included on the list, but political pressure seems to have prevailed," said HRW crisis advocacy director Philippe Bolopion.
The current list has 51 groups, including Boko Haram and the Islamic State group, as well as the armed forces from eight countries such as Syria, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
The blacklist of children's rights violators was released just two months after a UN inquiry found that the Israeli military was responsible for seven attacks on UN schools in Gaza that were used as shelters during the 2014 war.
The board of inquiry confirmed that UN officials working with Palestinian refugees sent twice-daily communications to the Israeli military with precise GPS coordinates of the schools being used as emergency shelters.
The United Nations is discussing measures to address the findings of the UN inquiry and it remains an open question as to whether they could be used in a possible war crimes case against Israel.
The 50-day conflict in Gaza last year killed 539 children and injured 2,956, most of whom are Palestinians now struggling with trauma and life-long disabilities, according to the UN children's agency UNICEF.