Amnesty International accuses Israel of war crimes in Gaza

Amnesty International July 21 accused Israeli forces of war crimes, saying they used children as human shields and conducted wanton attacks on civilians during their offensive in the Gaza Strip. The rights group also accused Hamas of war crimes, but found no evidence that the Islamist rulers of Gaza similarly used civilians as human shields during the 22-day Israeli offensive. It reiterated its call for an international arms embargo against Israel.

Israeli troops forced Palestinians to stay in one room of their home while turning the rest of the house into a base for sniper positions, “effectively using the families, both adults and children, as human shields and putting them at risk,” the report said. “Intentionally using civilians to shield a military objective, often referred to as using ‘human shields’ is a war crime,” Amnesty added.

Amnesty said it found no evidence Palestinian fighters directed civilians to shield military objectives from attacks, forced them to stay in buildings used by militants, or prevented them from leaving commandeered buildings. The report did, however, point out that Hamas and other armed groups fired hundreds of rockets into southern Israel. “Such unlawful attacks constitute war crimes and are unacceptable,” said Donatella Rovera, who led an Amnesty mission to Gaza and southern Israel.

Amnesty said 300 children were among those killed in the Israeli offensive. “Hundreds of civilians were killed in attacks carried out using high-precision weapons, air-delivered bombs and missiles, and tank shells,” the report found. “Others, including women and children, were shot at short range when posing no threat to the lives of the Israeli soldiers.” (AFP, July 2)

Human Rights Watch also issued a report finding that missiles fired from Israeli drones unlawfully killed at least 29 Palestinian civilians during the Gaza Strip war. Despite having advanced surveillance equipment, drone operators failed to exercise proper caution “as required by the laws of war” in verifying their targets were combatants, HRW found. (Reuters, June 30)

Meanwhile, international activists say they will again set sail from Cyprus to blockaded Gaza after Israeli forces impounded one of their boats. The Free Gaza group’s Greta Berlin said a new Gaza trip is planned for mid-August once a new boat is acquired.

The Israeli navy said June 30 that it commandeered the Greek-flagged ferry with 21 activists and three tons of medical aid aboard after it ignored warnings to turn back. Israel said all passengers—including former US Rep. Cynthia McKinney and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire—will be released. The Free Gaza group has made five boat trips to the Strip since August 2008 to challenge the Israeli blockade imposed after Hamas seized control of the territory a year earlier. (AP, July 1)

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