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Rights groups: Israeli military investigation into Gaza abuses 'not credible'

April 23, 2009 8:25 P.M. (Updated: April 23, 2009 8:25 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - Human rights watchdogs accused the Israeli military on Thursday of using its internal investigations to whitewash allegations that it committed war crimes during its recent offensive on the Gaza Strip.

"The investigative results make clear that the Israeli military will not objectively monitor itself," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, one of the organizations that responded to the results of an internal military investigation released on Wednesday.

"The conclusions are an apparent attempt to mask violations of the laws of war by Israeli forces in Gaza. Only an impartial inquiry will provide a measure of redress for the civilians who were killed unlawfully," said Stork in a statement.

Human Rights Watch, along with Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations are calling for Israel to comply with the UN-backed investigation headed by Justice Richard Goldstone. Israel has said it will refuse to comply with the international probe.

The military concluded five separate investigations on Wednesday with the observation that "throughout the fighting in Gaza, the IDF operated in accordance with international law." Incidents in which innocent Palestinians were killed were labeled "operational mishaps."

"Data collected by Israeli human rights organization shows that many civilians were killed in Gaza not due to 'mishaps' but as a direct result of the Military's chosen policy implemented throughout the fighting," wrote nine human rights organizations in a unanimous rejection of the military's conclusions.

The Israeli groups (B'Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, Gisha, Adalah, Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Yesh Din, Hamoked, Public Committee Against Torture, Bimkom, and Rabbis for Human Rights) also noted that if the military believes it did no wrong, it should not object to Goldstone's independent investigation.

Human Rights Watch also cited its own investigation into the war in Gaza, which concluded that "Israeli forces were responsible for serious violations of the laws of war, including the use of heavy artillery and white phosphorus munitions in densely populated areas, the apparent targeting of people trying to convey their civilian status, and the destruction of civilian objects in excess of military need."

"Some of the cases of white-phosphorus use demonstrate evidence of war crimes," the New York-based organization said last month in a 71-page report.

According to Palestinian Health Ministry figures, more than 1,450 Palestinians, including hundreds of children, were killed during the three-week attack on Gaza in December and January. Ten Israeli soldiers were killed in fighting, and three Israeli civilians were killed by projectiles fired from the Gaza Strip.

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