The annual report by the human rights watchdog group Amnesty International (AI), released on Wednesday, criticises the Israeli use of Palestinians as human shields, extra-judicial killings, systematic house demolitions, torture, collective punishment and closures and deliberate killing of civilians.


Some 700 Palestinians were killed by Israeli occupying forces last year alone, an increase from the previous year's figure of 600, according to the report. About 150 of these were children, many killed deliberately and unlawfully, charged the watchdog group. 


"Many were killed in deliberate as well as reckless shooting, shelling and bombardment of densely populated residential areas or as a result of excessive use of force," the group says.


"Certain abuses committed by the Israeli army constituted crimes against humanity and war crimes"

Amnesty International

The report also says some 109 Israelis, most of them civilians and including eight children, were killed by Palestinian armed groups in bombings, shootings and mortar attacks inside Israel and in the occupied territories.


But AI also accuses the Israeli army of granting impunity to soldiers and settlers whose crimes against innocent Palestinians went unpunished.


"In the overwhelming majority of the thousands of cases of unlawful killings and other grave human rights violations committed by Israeli soldiers in the previous four years, no investigations were known to have been carried out," the report stated.


House demolitions


The report attacks Israel 's policies of house demolitions in the southern Gaza Strip, where the Israeli army destroyed 300 homes and damaged about 270 others in a refugee camp in Rafah, leaving close to 4000 Palestinians homeless  


"Routine destruction of Palestinian homes, land and property in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was stepped up in the biggest wave of house demolitions in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the intifada," the report says.


The wall has cut off many
Palestinians from their land

Amnesty further criticises Israel's continual expansion of the illegal separation wall and increased attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinians and international activists, and the destruction of their property and crops.


"The wall and hundreds of Israeli army checkpoints and blockades throughout the occupied territories continued to hinder or prevent Palestinians' access to their land, their workplaces and to education, health and other crucial services," the report says.


The Hague-based International Court of Justice ruled unlawful the construction by Israel of a barrier inside the occupied West Bank last July.


In a chapter devoted to the Palestinian Authority, the human-rights group said security officials were involved in fighting between various resistance groups, which killed dozens of Palestinians.

According to AI, 18 Palestinians were killed in the clashes after they were suspected of collaboration with Israel. 


US criticised


The report further criticised the US for disregarding rule of law worldwide and turning a blind eye to Israeli excesses in the name of "counter-terrorism".


"The USA, as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power, sets the tone for governmental behaviour worldwide. When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity and audacity," read the report.


AI calls the Guantanamo prison
camp 'the gulag of our times'

"From Israel to Uzbekistan, Egypt to Nepal, governments have openly defied human rights and international humanitarian law in the name of national security and 'counter-terrorism," it concluded.


In turn, the White House has slammed as "ridiculous and unsupported" AI's charge that the US has undermined respect for human rights across the world by striving to weaken absolute opposition to torture.


"I think the allegations are ridiculous and unsupported by the facts," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Wednesday. "The United States is leading the way when it comes to protecting human rights and promoting human dignity.


"We have liberated 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have worked to advance freedom and democracy in the world so that people are governed under a rule of law and that there are ... protections in place for minority rights, that women's rights are advanced so that women can fully participate in societies where now they cannot," McClellan said.


Uproar in Israel


The AI report has already caused an uproar in Israel, with Yahad (Meretz) lawmaker Zahava Gal-On on Wednesday calling for an urgent Knesset debate following its publication.


The Israeli government, meanwhile, accused the human rights watchdog group of holding a "very one-sided and extremist position".


Eimat Hurvitz ,of Amnesty International's Israeli office, rejected such claims, saying that Israel is judged by the same standard as other nations.


 "These are not new definitions [of war crimes] - they are taken from the Nuremburg trial after the Holocaust
brought to trial
Nazi leaders

Eimat Hurvitz,
Amnesty International's Israeli representative

Hurvitz told
"These are not new definitions [of war crimes] - they are taken from the Nuremburg trial after the Holocaust that brought to trial Nazi leaders: crimes that are perpetrated against civilians and that are part of a systemic policy."


He gave the example of the Israeli assassination of Palestinians as a policy that "takes into account civilians deaths but doesn't take them into account". 


In the end, Hurvitz said definitions are not important; abiding by the report is.


"What's important is how do we in next year, what's important is to have less attacks against civilians or minimise such attacks. We hope Israel and the Palestinian Authority will read it and try to incorporate some of the issues into their actions, and not only try to defy it or explain why it is wrong."