UN: Israel ‘deliberately’ attacked Gaza civiliansPosted: September 16, 2009
‘Strong evidence’ of Israeli ‘willful killing’, torture, extensive destruction of property in Gaza.
Published: Sep. 16, 2009 – Middle East Online
UNITED NATIONS – A UN report Tuesday accused both Israel and the Palestinians of committing “war crimes” in the Gaza Strip, but particularly slammed Israel’s use of disproportionate force in the conflict.
The damning report found Israel violated international humanitarian law during its assault on the Gaza Strip eight months ago.
The four-member probe panel “concluded that actions amounting to war crimes and possibly in some respect crimes against humanity were committed by the Israel Defense Forces,” the head of the UN probe, former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone, told reporters.
Rocket firing by Palestinian resistance groups also amounted to war crimes “and may amount to crimes against humanity,” a seven-page summary said.
But only four paragraphs of the summary were devoted to Palestinian violations, and Goldstone, appointed in April to lead a broadened human rights probe into the Gaza violence, was more sharply critical of Israel.
“We came to the conclusion, on the basis of the facts we found, that there was strong evidence to establish that numerous serious violations of international law, both humanitarian law and human rights law, were committed by Israel during the military operation in Gaza,” he said.
Israel immediately dismissed the report, saying the mandate that established the fact-finding mission was “one-sided.”
But the Israeli foreign ministry added that despite its reservations, Tel Aviv would read the report “carefully” and was committed “to acting fully in accordance with international law and to examining any allegations of wrongdoing by its own forces.”
The democratically elected movement Hamas in Gaza also criticised the report as “political and unbalanced.”
“This is a political, unbalanced and dishonest report as it puts on the same level those who perpetrate crimes and those who resist,” said Ismael Radwan, a top Hamas official in Gaza.
The findings and recommendations of the report are to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on September 29.
Some 1,400 Palestinians, mainly civilians, and 13 Israelis, mainly soldiers, were killed during the fighting between December 28, 2008 and January 18.
Israel had killed 447 Palestinian minors, mostly children, and wounded thousands of people, in addition to destroying Gaza’s infrastructure.
Israeli forces deliberately attacked civilians and failed to take precautions to minimize loss of civilian life, the UN report noted.
The firing of white phosphorous shells and the use of high explosive artillery shells were listed as “violations of humanitarian law.”
“There were numerous instances of deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects in violation of the fundamental international humanitarian law principle of distinction, resulting in deaths and serious injuries,” the report noted.
There was “strong evidence that Israeli forces committed grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in Gaza, including willful killing, torture or inhumane treatment, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, or extensive destruction of property,” it added.
“The Israeli operations were carefully planned in all their phases as a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population,” the report said.
Israel had failed to investigate or to prosecute violations of international humanitarian law and human rights laws, it said.
The report said such attacks by Palestinian resistance groups also “constitute a deliberate attack against the civilian population, which would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity.”
But it said it found no evidence to back Israeli claims that Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza “either directed civilians to areas where attacks were being launched or that they forced civilians to remain within the vicinity of the attacks.”
The mission investigated several incidents in which Israeli armed forces used local Palestinian residents as human shields, an action that constitutes a war crime.
Israeli acts depriving Palestinians of their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water and denying them freedom of movement could be deemed a crime against humanity.
The panel recommended the Human Rights Council ask UN chief Ban Ki-moon to bring the report to the attention of the Security Council, as Goldstone hinted the charges could be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
It also said the Security Council should require Israel to launch independent probes within three months.
Israel has refused to cooperate with the Goldstone team or allow it onto its territory, arguing that its mandate is biased.
Donatella Rovera, who headed an Amnesty International probe into the conflict, urged the Security Council “to refer the Goldstone findings to the International Criminal Court prosecutor if Israel and Hamas do not carry out credible investigations within a set, limited period.”