Published on Thursday, November 2, 2000 in the Guardian of London
Amnesty Warns Of Israeli War Crimes
Amnesty International said yesterday that Israeli troops were using excessive force in battles with Palestinians, and that violations of human rights during recent weeks could constitute war crimes.

After returning from a visit to the Middle East, Claudio Cordone, a researcher for the human rights group, urged both sides to show restraint, but reserved his harshest criticism for the Israelis.

"It tends to be children and others flinging stones, even Molotov cocktails, and the Israeli forces seem to have a pretty short fuse in their answer," he said. "They therefore tend to react with combat reflexes as opposed to proper policing methods."

More than 150 people, almost all of them Palestinians, have been killed in the latest outbreak of violence.

Mr Cordone quoted an Israeli official as telling Amnesty that forces had been on a virtual war footing since the flare-up began, and that investigations into deaths at the hands of Israeli forces had been called off.

One of only two cases being looked into was that of a Palestinian boy, whose death in his father's arms was captured by the world's media.

Amnesty called for an independent inquiry into the crisis in order to study individual cases of human rights abuses and bring the guilty to justice. "There is a pattern of gross human rights violations that may well amount to war crimes," Mr Cordone said.

He urged both sides to react to attacks with proportionate force, saying Israeli troops had appeared to move from firing tear gas to live rounds too quickly. "If a kid is throwing stones at you, but is not putting any lives at risk, then you do not shoot him," he said.

Amnesty slammed the use of helicopters against Palestinian targets, and urged America and Britain to refrain from exporting to Israel equipment used for their maintenance.

Palestinian authorities also came in for criticism for failing to stop children joining street battles. And Mr Cordone added that Palestinians had also used guns, meaning their opponents often had little choice but to fire back.

"In that situation we would not object to the Israeli forces defending themselves and using whatever force, including lethal force, is necessary as long as it is proportionate."

He added that a promised Palestinian inquiry into the mob killing of two Israeli soldiers last month was moving ahead slowly, if at all.