Israel/Occupied PalestinianTerritories:Impunity for war crimes in Gaza and southern Israel recipe for further civilian suffering

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Israel/Occupied PalestinianTerritories:Impunity for war crimes in Gaza and southern Israel recipe for further civilian suffering

LONDON - Israeli forces killed hundreds of
unarmed Palestinian civilians and destroyed thousands of homes in Gaza
in attacks which breached the laws of war, Amnesty International
concluded in a new 117-page report published today - the first
comprehensive report to be published on the 22-day conflict earlier
this year.

“Israel’s failure to properly investigate its forces’ conduct in
Gaza, including war crimes, and its continuing refusal to cooperate
with the UN international independent fact-finding mission headed by
Richard Goldstone, is evidence of its intention to avoid public
scrutiny and accountability,” said Donatella Rovera, who headed a field
research mission to Gaza and southern Israel during and after the
conflict.  

“The international community, led by the UN Security Council, must
use all its leverage to ensure that Israel cooperates fully with the
Goldstone inquiry, which now offers the best means to establish the
truth.”

Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups fired hundreds of rockets
into southern Israel, killing three Israeli civilians, injuring scores
and driving thousands from their homes. “Such unlawful attacks
constitute war crimes and are unacceptable,” added Rovera. 

The 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.
 
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 1,400 Palestinians killed by Israeli
forces. 

Most 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.

Amnesty International found that the victims of the attacks it
investigated were not caught in the crossfire during battles between
Palestinian militants and Israeli forces, nor were they shielding
militants or other military objects. Many were killed when their homes
were bombed while they slept. Other 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.

“The deaths of so many children and other civilians cannot be
dismissed simply as ‘collateral damage’, as argued by Israel,” said
Donatella 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.” 

More than 3,000 homes were destroyed and some 20,000 damaged in
Israeli attacks which reduced entire neighbourhoods of Gaza to rubble
and left an already dire economic situation in ruins. Much of the
destruction was wanton and could not be justified on grounds of
“military necessity”.

The Israeli army has not responded to Amnesty International’s
repeated requests over the past five months for information on specific
cases detailed in the report and for meetings to discuss the
organization’s findings.

"For its part, Hamas has continued to justify the rocket attacks
launched daily by its fighters and by other Palestinian armed groups
into towns and villages in southern Israel during the 22-day conflict.
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,” added Rovera. 

In addition to locally made Qassam rockets, Palestinian militants
often fired longer-range Grad-type rockets smuggled into Gaza via the
tunnels on 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 Donatella Rovera.

Under international law, states have a responsibility to exercise
universal jurisdiction and start criminal investigations in national
courts, wherever there is sufficient evidence of war crimes or other
crimes under international law, to arrest and bring to justice alleged
perpetrators.

“Those responsible for war crimes and other serious violations must not be allowed to escape accountability and justice.”

Among other recommendations, the report calls on states to suspend
all transfers of military equipment, assistance and munitions to
Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until there is no
longer a substantial risk that such equipment will be used to commit
serious violations of international law.

It calls on Israel to commit not to carry out direct, indiscriminate
or disproportionate attacks on civilians; or use artillery, mortars and
white phosphorus weapons in densely populated areas; and to end its
blockade on the Gaza Strip, which is collectively punishing the entire
population.

It urges Hamas to renounce its policy of unlawful rocket attacks
against civilian population centres in Israel and to prevent other
armed groups from carrying out such attacks.

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Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. Our supporters are outraged by human rights abuses but inspired by hope for a better world - so we work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity. We have more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions and we coordinate this support to act for justice on a wide range of issues.

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