Israel committed war crimes in Gaza, UN says
Israel committed war crimes by deliberately attacking civilians, firing white phosphorous shells and carrying out torture during its offensive in Gaza eight months ago, a United Nations investigation has concluded.
In a 575-page report released yesterday, a team of UN investigators found that Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, may also have carried out war crimes by firing rockets at civilian targets in Israel.
But the probe, which has proved contentious since its inception, was far more damning about Israel's role in the conflict, which killed almost 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis in 22 days of fighting over the New Year."The Israeli operations were carefully planned in all their phases as a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise the civilian population," the report found.
B'Tselem, an independent Israeli human rights group, concluded last week that 773 Palestinian civilians, including 252 children under the age of 16, were killed during the offensive, a figure disputed by Israel. Three Israeli civilians also died.
The four-man team, led by Richard Goldstone, a former South African judge, said that there was enough evidence to suggest Israel had broken several international laws covering the conduct of war.
"The mission concluded that actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly in some respect crimes against humanity, were committed by the Israel Defence Force," the report said.
"There were numerous instances of deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects in violation of the fundamental humanitarian principle of distinction, resulting in deaths and some serious injuries.
"[There is] strong evidence that Israeli forces committed grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, including wilful killing [and] torture." The report was immediately condemned by the Israeli government, which has accused Justice Goldstone and his team of bias.
"Its mandate was clearly one-sided and ignored thousands of Hamas missile attacks on civilians in southern Israel that made the Gaza operation necessary." Israel refused to co-operate with the Goldstone team and denied investigators access to its territory, claiming that it was prejudiced and gave legitimacy to Hamas.
The investigation also failed to win the endorsement of the European Union and other western powers who sit on the UN's Human Rights Council, which authorised the mission. The United States is not a member of the body.
Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch condemned the failure to support the inquiry, pointing out that Mr Goldstone, who is Jewish, is widely respected as one of the world's leading war crime investigators. He has prosecuted war crimes committed in both Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
The Goldstone commission is expected to present its findings to the UN Security Council at the end of the month.
It called on the Security Council to order Israel to investigate possible war crimes during the Gaza campaign and refer the situation to the International Criminal Court in The Hague if the Jewish state refuses to comply.