UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations on Monday left Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas off its blacklist of states and armed groups that violate children's rights during conflicts, but criticized Israel over its 2014 military operations.
U.N. special envoy for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, had included Israel's army - known as the IDF - and Hamas in a draft of the report she had sent to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Ban had final say on the blacklist, which was distributed to Security Council members on Monday.
U.N. sources have said Ban's decision to override Zerrougui's recommendation was unusual. They also said Israel lobbied Ban hard to stay off the list, though it denied pressuring him.
Still, his report strongly criticized Israel.
"The unprecedented and unacceptable scale of the impact on children in 2014 raises grave concerns about Israel's compliance with international humanitarian law ... (and) excessive use of force," he said.
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor said Israel should not be listed alongside groups like Islamic State, al Qaeda and the Taliban. Emmanuel Nahshon, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Israel took all possible steps to protect civilians.
"Israel acted to defend its residents from attacks by a murderous terrorist group, which has no qualms about placing Palestinian civilians, including children, in the line of fire," Nahshon said.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum criticized the United Nations for keeping Israel off the list and for equating his Islamist faction, which he said was defending the Palestinians against Israeli "state terror," with Israel.
The U.N. report criticized "Palestinian armed groups" for indiscriminate rocket fire that endangered children in Israel and Gaza.
More than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians and including 540 children, were killed during last year's 50-day Gaza war between Hamas and Israel, while 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed.
A U.N. inquiry found that Israel fired on seven U.N. schools and killed 44 Palestinians who had sought shelter, while Palestinian militants hid weapons and launched attacks from several empty U.N. schools.
Ban said that in conflicts in Central African Republic, Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Nigeria, South Sudan and Syria, "children were affected to a degree which is an affront to our common humanity."
The report, which covers at least 23 situations, noted the five deadliest conflicts for children. It said 710 children were killed in Afghanistan, 679 in Iraq, 557 Palestinian children died, 368 in Syria, and 197 in Darfur, Sudan.
The U.N. report blacklists groups or armed forces that "recruit or use children, kill or maim children, commit rape and other forms of sexual violence against children, or engage in attacks on schools and/or hospitals."
Armed groups blacklisted were involved in conflicts in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan, Iraq, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Colombia, Nigeria and the Philippines.
Countries whose national or regional armed forces were included on the blacklist were Afghanistan, DRC, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Myanmar and Yemen.
Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Richard Chang