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Both Israel and Hamas reject Amnesty's Gaza findings

July 2, 2009 4:50 P.M. (Updated: July 2, 2009 4:50 P.M.)
Gaza - Ma'an - The de facto Information Ministry in Gaza on Thursday rejected findings by Amnesty International that Hamas committed war crimes during the Israeli assault last winter.

Responding to a report released on Thursday that termed projectile attacks on Israeli targets as unlawful, the ministry said Amnesty was "treating the victim and the perpetrator equally," according to a statement sent to Ma'an.

"Ignoring the main reasons behind what is happening is providing a cover for killing and expelling, and justifies the [Gaza] siege, which is in violation of international law," the Hamas-run ministry added.

Amnesty's report called Hamas' and other armed groups' attacks during the assault evidence that they had "no qualms about launching attacks against civilians and that they in fact carry out attacks intending to kill and injure israeli civilians. Such attacks constitute war crimes."

But the Hamas-run ministry insisted that by describing armed action against Israel as illegal, the international human rights organization was blurring the line between "legitimate resistance" and "Israeli weaponry," and further denounced the findings as slanted toward Israel.

The statement went on to accuse Amnesty of creating excuses for the "[Israeli] occupation's crimes," and noted that the ministry would hold the international human rights organization "fully responsible" for what it said was encouraging Israel's behavior by criticizing resistance.

Yet despite Amnesty's thorough criticism of Hamas, Israel's military in its own statement to Ma'an said that "[i]t is to Amnesty International's discredit that the report they issued, focuses so intently on any and all IDF [Israel Defense Forces] infractions, and ignores the blatant violations of international law perpetrated by Hamas."

"The slant of their [Amnesty's] report indicates that the organization succumbed to the manipulations of the Hamas terror organization," the military spokesperson added in a written response to the accusations on "Operation Cast Lead," Israel's name for the assault.

"We find it both questionable and objectionable that a well-respected and ostensibly objective international organization such as Amnesty could produce a report on Operation Cast Lead without properly recognizing the unbearable reality of nine years of incessant and indiscriminate rocket fire on the citizens of Israel," the spokesperson wrote.

"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.

In fact, the group charged in its report that it was instead Israeli soldiers who repeatedly used Palestinians as human shields during the three-week onslaught. In response to that, the military spokesperson admitted on Thursday to a few "unfortunate incidents that are unavoidable during combat - especially the type of combat Hamas forced upon the IDF," when it "chose to fight from within civilian population centers."

According to the country's Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Israel's military "is currently looking into complaints that were received from various sources - private lawyers, human rights organizations (including Amnesty) and media outlets (both domestic and international) - that raise different questions regarding the way in which the IDF operated."

"In certain cases, the Chief Military Advocate has already ordered the opening of a criminal investigation," the Israeli military official added.

Nevertheless, Amnesty's 117-page report charged that Israel has not fully investigated violations and is guilty of committing egregious war crimes during its operation in the Gaza Strip in December and January, which left nearly 1,500 Palestinians dead and thousands more seriously injured.

"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 [South African Judge] 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 documented the killings of hundreds of unarmed Palestinian civilians and destruction of thousands of homes in Gaza by attacks from Israeli forces. It also catalogued the three deaths of Israeli civilians from the "hundreds of rockets" Palestinian militant factions fired into southern Israel.
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