Israel, Hamas committed war crimes: AmnestyJuly 2nd, 2009 - 1:55 pm ICT by IANS
Jerusalem, July 2 (DPA) Israel and Palestinian militants committed war crimes during the Gaza war of last winter, Amnesty International said in its first comprehensive report on the 22-day conflict, published Thursday.
The London-based human rights groups called for an international arms embargo on both Israel and the radical Islamist Hamas movement ruling Gaza.
Israeli forces killed hundreds of unarmed Palestinian civilians and destroyed thousands of homes in Gaza in attacks which breached the laws of war, it said in the 117-page report.
Donatella Rovera, who headed a field research mission to Gaza and southern Israel during and after the conflict for Amnesty, slammed Israel for trying to avoid accountability, by failing to properly investigate itself the conduct of its own forces, and by refusing to cooperate with the UN fact-finding mission headed by respected South African prosecutor Richard Goldstone.
She urged the international community to “use all its leverage” to pressure Israel into cooperating with the Goldstone inquiry.
The Amnesty report, based on evidence gathered by Amnesty International delegates, including a military expert, during field research in January and February, documents Israel’s use of battlefield weapons against a civilian population trapped in Gaza, with no means of escape.
It said the scale and intensity of the attacks on Gaza were unprecedented. Some 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians who took no part in the conflict were among the some 1,400 Palestinians killed during the war.
Most, it said, were killed with high-precision weapons, relying on surveillance drones which have exceptionally good optics, allowing those observing to see their targets in detail. Others were killed with imprecise weapons, including artillery shells carrying white phosphorus - not previously used in Gaza - which should never be used in densely populated areas.
Many, it added, were killed when their homes were bombed while they slept. “Others were sitting in their yard or hanging the laundry on the roof. Children were struck while playing in their bedrooms or on the roof, or near their homes. Paramedics and ambulances were repeatedly attacked while attempting to rescue the wounded or recover the dead,” it said.
“The deaths of so many children and other civilians cannot be dismissed simply as ‘collateral damage’, as argued by Israel,” said Rovera. “Many questions remain to be answered about these attacks and about the fact that the strikes continued unabated despite the rising civilian death toll.”
According to Amnesty, more than 3,000 homes were destroyed and some 20,000 damaged in Israeli attacks which reduced several entire neighbourhoods of Gaza to rubble. It charged that most of the damage was “wanton”.
About the hundreds of Palestinian rockets launched, Rovera said that “though less lethal, these attacks, using unguided rockets which cannot be directed at specific targets, violated international humanitarian law and cannot be justified under any circumstance.”
In addition to locally made Qassam rockets, Palestinian militants fired longer-range Grad-type rockets smuggled into Gaza via the tunnels under the Egyptian border, which reached deeper into Israel and placed many more Israeli civilians at risk.
“Five months on, neither side has shown any inclination to change its practices and abide by international humanitarian law, raising the prospect that civilians will again bear the brunt if fighting resumes,” said Rovera.
The report urged those responsible be held accountable for the war crimes committed.
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