James Hider / The Times – 2009-03-26 08:55:25
Israel Accused of War Crimes over White Phosphorus
James Hider / The Times
JERUSALEM (March 25, 2009) — A leading human rights group accused Israel’s army yesterday of committing war crimes by using white phosphorus shells in the recent war in Gaza.
With accusations of abuses in the Gaza offensive mounting by the day, the latest report by Human Rights Watch lambasted Israel for its widespread use of the controversial munitions, which are allowed as a battlefield smokescreen but banned from use on civilian areas.
“In Gaza the Israeli military didn’t just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops,” said Fred Abrahams, who co-wrote the report, which draws on witness statements, spent shells, satellite images and photography.
“It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren’t in the area and safer smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died.” The report, Rain of Fire, said that senior Israeli army commanders should be held accountable “for the needless civilian deaths caused by white phosphorus.”
The use of white phosphorus in the three-week Gaza campaign was first reported by The Times in January. After initial denials, Israel admitted that it had deployed the substance.
UN Accuses Israeli Troops of Gaza Human Rights Abuses
James Hider / The Times
JERUSALEM (March 24, 2009) — A United Nations report accused Israeli troops yesterday of using a Palestinian child as a human shield during fighting in Gaza, shooting Palestinian children, bulldozing a house with a woman and child inside and shelling a building they had ordered civilians to enter a day earlier.
The allegations, made by a group of UN human rights experts, were the latest claims against the Israeli military over its three-week campaign in Gaza at the start of the year.
Some of the most damning recent charges have been levelled by Israeli soldiers who fought in the conflict which left an estimated 1,400 Palestinians dead, most of them believed to be civilians. At the same time, there have been reports of soldiers wearing T-shirts mocking the deaths of Palestinian women and children.
Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Secretary-General’s envoy for protecting children in armed conflict, said that on January 15, when the fighting in Gaza was at its peak, Israeli troops forced a Palestinian boy aged 11 to walk in front of them as they came under fire in the district of Tel al-Hawa.
The UN also cited alleged abuses by Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza. Ms Coomaraswamy said that the group had been unwilling to investigate the charges made.
She said that the abuses were “just a few examples of the hundreds of incidents that have been documented and verified” by the nine UN officials allowed into the territory after the war ended in late January. “Violations were reported on a daily basis, too numerous to list,” she said.
The UN report coincided with claims by an Israeli human rights group that the Israeli Army had attacked Palestinian medics and refused to allowed wounded people to receive medical treatment. “Israel placed numerous obstacles in the course of the operation that impeded emergency medical evacuation of the sick and wounded and also caused families to be trapped for days without food, water and medications,” Physicians for Human Rights said.
The rights group said that Israeli forces killed 16 Palestinian medical personnel and wounded 25, as well as attacking 8 hospitals and 26 primary care clinics. It cited the example of one man, identified as Mr Shurrab, whose two sons were shot by Israeli troops while driving in the southern Gaza Strip.
“One of the sons died immediately, the other bled to death over 12 hours,” the report said. “All that time the Israeli soldiers were within a short distance from the Shurrabs but did not provide any assistance despite the father’s repeated requests.”
Israeli officials had voiced satisfaction initially at the country’s handling of the media coverage during the fighting, when the authorities banned journalists from entering the enclave. Since then, however, more accusations have leaked out.
The military chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi, said: “I tell you that this is a moral and ideological army. I have no doubt that exceptional events will be dealt with.”
The Army has been forced to open several investigations into the rash of allegations. Trying to limit the damage to Israel’s battered image, it was quick to condemn offensive T-shirts reportedly worn by soldiers. The shirt designs, according to Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper which produced the mock-up versions pictured above, include a pregnant woman in the cross-hairs of a sniper rifle, with the logo “1 Shot 2 Kills”.Haaretzsaid that soldiers had taken to wearing the shirts to mark the end of basic training and other courses. The shirts were made by a private company.
The Army said in a statement yesterday that “this type of humour is unbecoming and should be condemned”, and threatened disciplinary action.
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