Israel admits use of white phosphorus in Gaza offensive

April 23rd, 2009 - 6:28 am ICT by IANS  

Jerusalem, April 23 (DPA) The Israeli military made mistakes during its December offensive in Gaza, which caused civilian deaths, but did not deliberately fire at civilians, Israel’s deputy chief of army staff has said.
“We haven’t found even a single case in which an Israeli soldier aimed his sight and deliberately shot a Palestinian civilian,” Israeli media quoted Major General Dan Harel as saying, as he presented the findings of internal army investigations into allegations of human rights violations during the Dec 27 to Jan 18 offensive.

In the findings, the Israeli military admitted it used two types of white phosphorus, but insisted it did so in accordance with international law.

The military said it mainly used the variety that creates smokescreens to protect ground forces against militants with anti-tank missiles, arguing that this often prevented the need to use explosives.

It said it also used a “very limited amount” of another type of white phosphorous used for marking and range-finding - both in mortar shells fired by ground forces and 76mm rounds fired from naval vessels - but only in “open areas”.

Human rights groups claim the use of white phosphorus in populated areas is a violation of international law because it causes severe burns and therefore disproportionate harm to civilians.

The findings also stated that de-facto Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniya, of the radical Islamist Hamas movement ruling Gaza, hid in a unit of Gaza City’s main al-Shifa Hospital throughout the operation.

Hamas militants closed off an entire wing of the hospital’s ground floor and guards stationed at entrances prevented the entry of non-Hamas members, the military said. Hospital staff had denied these allegations during the offensive.

One of the deadliest incidents investigated was the Jan 6 shelling of a school run by UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, in the northern Gaza Strip refugee camp of Jabiliya.

Hundreds of civilians had taken shelter in the school. Gaza emergency services chief Mo’aweya Hassanein said 42 people died when the shells hit a crowd of refugees outside the building. According to the Israeli military’s investigation, five militants and seven civilians were killed.

However, the Israeli military insisted that the number of intelligence and operational mistakes made during the offensive was comparatively “small”. It said the fighting took place “in a complex battlefield against an enemy who chose, as a conscious part of its

doctrine, to locate itself in the midst of the civilian population”.

Ten Israeli human rights groups, including B’Tselem and Physicians for Human Rights, issued a joint statement calling the findings “very problematic” and demanding an “external, extra-military investigation”.

“If the military claims that there were no major deficiencies in its conduct in Gaza, it is not clear why Israel refuses to cooperate with the UN investigation team, led by the South African judge Richard Goldstone,” they said.

According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 1,417 Palestinians died in the offensive - 236 fighters, 255 non-combatant police officers and 926 civilians, including 313 minors and 116 women.

Thirteen Israelis died in ground fighting and rocket attacks.

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