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Middle East
Israel 'wantonly destroyed Gaza'
Amnesty International report accuses Israel and Hamas of war crimes.
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2009 11:24 GMT
Amnesty said around 1,400 Palestinians were killed including hundreds of children and civilians [AFP]
 

Israel inflicted "wanton destruction" in the Gaza Strip during its 22-day war on the coastal enclave in December and January, Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group has said.

In a 117-page report released on Thursday, Amnesty cited evidence that Israeli troops put children and other civilians in harm's way "by forcing them to remain in or near houses which they took over and used as military positions".

Accusing Israel of "breaching laws of war", Amnesty said: "Much of the destruction was wanton and deliberate, and was carried out in a manner and circumstances which indicated that it could not be justified on grounds of military necessity."

The organisation also criticised Hamas, the movement in control of the territory, for rocket attacks on Israel, which it called "war crimes".

'Missing the point'

Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, told Al Jazeera: "Amnesty's report is problematic, it's based on very faulty methodology, it rehashes a lot of old stuff that was not confirmed and it misses the main point.

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"This was that Israel, in responding to Hamas violence, tried to act as surgically as was humanly possible in a very difficult urban combat operation, while Hamas did exactly the opposite".

The Israeli military said the report had "succumbed to the manipulations of the Hamas terror organisation".

"Operation Cast Lead was a result of nine years of Hamas' unrelenting Qassam, Grad and mortar shell fire on more than a quarter of a million of Israel's citizens," a military statement said.

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesperson, also rejected Amnesty's accusations on Thursday, saying the report was "neither fair nor balanced".

Barhoum said Hamas officials were not consulted before the publication of the report, which was "misleading" and ignored the size of destruction Israel caused.

"This report equates the aggressor with the victim and ignores international laws that guarantee resistance against occupation," he said.

Laws 'violated'

Widney Brown, the senior director for international law and policy at Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday: "What we have is, in both cases, both sides violating the laws of war.

"These laws of war are intended to protect civilians and in this case neither side showed respect for the importance of protecting those civilians."

Amnesty accused Hamas and other armed groups of endangering the lives of civilians in the Gaza Strip by operating near their homes.

Although rockets fired by Palestinian fighters from Gaza rarely caused casualties, they often sowed fear and panic amongst Israeli citizens and their use was "indiscriminate and hence unlawful under international law," the report said.

Amnesty said it found no evidence to support Israeli claims that Hamas fighters deliberately used civilians as "human shields" during the conflict.

About 1,400 Palestinians were killed in Israel's Operation Cast Lead, including 300 children and hundreds of innocent civilians, according to the report.

The figure is broadly in line with those from the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza and the independent Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

Co-operation refused

The Israeli military put the Palestinian death toll at 1,166 of whom 295 were civilians.

Thirteen Israelis were killed, including three civilians, during the offensive Israel launched with the declared aim of curtailing cross-border rocket attacks.

Israel and Hamas have both rejected accusations of war crimes.

An inquiry conducted by the Israeli military found no evidence of crimes.

Israel has refused to co-operate with a United Nations inquiry currently gathering evidence into the war.

Israeli government officials said investigators were prejudiced against Israel from the outset.

Geoffrey Robertson, a human rights barrister in London, told Al Jazeera: "In order to break this vicious cycle, it's necessary for both Hamas and Israel, instead of condemning Amnesty ... to co-operate and learn from authoritative criticisms."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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