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Amnesty: Israel killed hundreds of unarmed Palestinian civilians

July 2, 2009 10:34 A.M. (Updated: July 2, 2009 10:34 A.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - Israel is guilty of committing atrocious war crimes during its operation in the Gaza Strip in December and January, a new Amnesty International report published Thursday found.

As UN tribunals and committees continue to work or have their findings summarized and partially released, the Amnesty document is the first comprehensive report on the Israeli war on Gaza, termed Operation Case Lead.

"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 an Amnesty field research mission to Gaza and southern Israel during and after the conflict.

The report documents the killings of hundreds of unarmed Palestinian civilians and destruction of thousands of homes in Gaza by attacks from Israeli forces. It also catalogues the three deaths of Israeli civilians from the "hundreds of rockets" Palestinian militant factions fired into southern Israel. Analysts did not shy away from categorizing the "unlawful" projectile attacks as "war crimes," as well.

Israel's list of rights violations, however, was much more extensive. The report said Israeli attacks "breached the laws of war" when it used "battlefield weapons against a civilian population trapped in Gaza, with no means of escape."

Amnesty figures found that the scale and intensity of the attacks on Gaza were "unprecedented." They upheld numbers from the Gaza Ministry of Health which found at least "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."

Amnesty investigators found most of the deaths in Gaza were caused by "high-precision weapons, relying on surveillance drones which have exceptionally good optics, allowing those observing to see their targets in detail," making Israeli claims of civilian casualties as collateral damage unsustainable.

The victims of the attacks Amnesty 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."

The report also condemned the use of white phosphorus weapons, which it called "imprecise" and something that "should never be used in densely populated areas." The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, with 3,945.4 people per square kilometer.

Israel's 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, Amnesty said.

On Thursday, however, a spokesperson for Israel's military said in a statement that "[t]he slant of their [Amnesty's] report indicates that the organization succumbed to the manipulations of the Hamas terror organization."

"The Amnesty report ignores a critical aspect of Operation Cast Lead -- Hamas consistently, deliberately and routinely violated international law, specifically the prohibition against the use of 'human shields,'" the statement added, although Amnesty insisted on Thursday it had found no evidence that Hamas used such tactics.
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