Jeffrey Heller / Reuters & Jodi Rudoren / The New York Times – 2014-09-12 23:29:12
Human Rights Watch Accuses Israel of War Crimes in Gaza
Jeffrey Heller / Reuters
JERUSALEM (September 11, 2014) — Human Rights Watch accused Israel of committing war crimes by attacking three UN-run schools in the Gaza Strip in fighting in July and August, killing Palestinian civilians who had sheltered there.
The New York-based group issued a report on Thursday that it described as the first in-depth documentation of the incidents, which took place during a 50-day conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants that ended in a ceasefire on Aug. 26.
“Three Israeli attacks that damaged Gaza schools housing displaced people caused numerous civilian casualties in violation of the laws of war,” it said in the report, based on interviews with witnesses and field research in the Hamas Islamist-dominated enclave.
Israeli government and military spokesmen declined immediate comment. But during the Gaza fighting, Israel rejected preliminary Human Rights Watch findings it committed war crimes and said the group should focus on Hamas putting Palestinian civilians in harm’s way by using residential areas as launching points for attacks and for weapons storage.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch also said it was skeptical about the credibility of five criminal investigations announced by Israel’s military on Wednesday into its Gaza war operations.
The organization said 45 people, including 17 children, were killed in or near the “well-marked schools” in the strikes on July 24 in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, on July 30 in Jabalya refugee camp and on Aug. 3 in Rafah, in the south of the enclave.
It said its inspection of the Beit Hanoun site and photographs of munitions remnants suggested Israel fired mortars at the school, killing 13 people.
The Israeli military said at the time the school was hit by errant fire and the area around the facility had been used by Palestinian fighters to launch rockets.
In the Jabalya attack, Human Rights Watch said, Israeli artillery shells killed 20 people at the school. The military said its troops had come under mortar fire from fighters in the vicinity of the building and had shot back.
Twelve people were killed at the school in Rafah, Human Rights Watch said, and an impact crater and fragments “strongly suggested” a Spike missile had been fired by an Israeli aircraft. The military said shortly after the incident that it had targeted three militants on a motorcycle near the school.
Human Rights Watch, which called in its report for “all parties in the armed conflict in Gaza” to take measures to minimize harm to civilians, said the attacks on the Beit Hanoun and Jabalya schools “did not appear to target a military objective or were otherwise indiscriminate”, while the third strike, in Rafah, was “unlawfully disproportionate”.
On its website, the group noted that Israel had opened five criminal probes, including one into the Beit Hanoun incident.
But it said: “Israel has a long record of failing to undertake credible investigations into alleged war crimes.”
Israel’s military said on Wednesday it hoped to obtain testimony from Palestinian witnesses with the help of international organizations operating in the Gaza Strip.
The military investigations could help Israel challenge the work of a UN Human Rights Council commission of inquiry into possible war crimes committed by both sides in the fighting.
Israel has long accused the 47-member state council of being biased against it and says Hamas militants, who launched rocket attacks on Israeli towns from residential neighborhoods, bear ultimate responsibility for Palestinian civilian casualties.
More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in seven weeks of fighting, according to the Gaza health ministry. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed.
Israel launched its Gaza offensive on July 8 with the declared aim of halting the cross-border rocket salvoes by Hamas.
(c) Thomson Reuters 2014. All rights reserved.
Deal Reached on Gaza Reconstruction, Palestinian Leader Says
Jodi Rudoren / The New York Times
JERUSALEM (September 11, 2014) — President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority said Thursday night that he had reached an agreement with Israel and the United Nations to allow imports of reconstruction materials into the Gaza Strip, apparently bypassing Hamas to fulfill a key tenet of the cease-fire agreement that halted hostilities on Aug. 26.
A United Nations diplomat confirmed that the deal was due to be finalized and announced on Friday. Mr. Abbas did not provide specifics about when the imports might begin, how much would be allowed or who would control the process. Neither the Israeli prime minister nor the Israeli agency responsible for coordinating activities in Gaza returned telephone calls.
But at an evening meeting of the Palestinian leadership, Mr. Abbas said that a former minister and a United Nations representative had “signed an agreement which allows the entry of all materials to Gaza and the exporting of what’s possible to export from Gaza abroad, which will alleviate the living burdens on the people.” The comments were broadcast on television.
Gaza residents have been increasingly frustrated that more than two weeks after the cease-fire, its promise of open border crossings into Israel has not been fulfilled. Some 11,000 homes were destroyed and more than 50,000 buildings damaged in Israel’s seven-week battle against Hamas, the militant Islamist movement that dominates the strip.
Palestinian leaders estimated reconstruction costs at $7 billion and planned an international donor conference for next month. Yet it was unclear whether Hamas and Mr. Abbas’s Fatah faction could agree on an import arrangement that would meet Israel’s security demands to ensure that materials not be diverted to military purposes.
Mr. Abbas’s assertion that an agreement had been reached came hours after the broadcast of a television interview in which a senior Hamas leader said the group might have to reverse its longstanding ban on direct negotiations with Israel because the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire had not yielded progress on reconstruction.
The interview with the senior leader, Mousa Abu Marzook, along with Hamas’s partial payment of salaries on Thursday to employees of its former Gaza government, highlighted the increasing tension threatening the recent reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
Mr. Marzook, who is based in Cairo and has been visiting Gaza, told Al-Quds Television that Islamic law did not ban direct talks with Israel, and that Hamas “may find itself compelled to this behavior” because of the Palestinian Authority’s failure to meet the needs of Gaza residents.
“As we negotiate with weapons, we can negotiate with words,” Mr. Marzook said. “The issues that were sort of taboo policies become on the agenda.”
The Hamas politburo released a statement after the interview saying that “direct negotiations with the Zionist enemy are not of the movement’s policies and are not in the discussions.”
Israel has its own ban on talks with Hamas, unless the movement accepts three conditions: renounce violence, recognize Israel and embrace previous agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Mr. Marzook’s comments may have been less about a practical policy change than a political shot at Mr. Abbas, whose harsh criticism of Hamas over the weekend renewed doubts about the durability of the reconciliation pact signed in April.
One of Hamas’s main goals in the reconciliation was to secure payment of salaries for more than 40,000 people who had staffed ministries in Gaza since 2007, when Hamas, which won elections the previous year and formed a unity government with Fatah that soon collapsed, routed its rival from Gaza.
But the Palestinian Authority, which in the intervening years has continued to pay salaries for 70,000 employees of its own in Gaza, maintains that it cannot send money to anyone affiliated with Hamas, for fear of risking financial support from countries like the United States that consider Hamas a terrorist group.
So Hamas, which has already distributed $40 million to families whose homes were attacked by Israel, on Thursday provided $275 to $1,240 to each of its employees in what officials described as a loan. Hamas, which was suffering financially this spring, has refused to say where the money originated, and the payments only emphasized Mr. Abbas’s accusation that it has continued to operate a shadow government in Gaza.
Employees who had not been paid for months lined up outside the Islamic National Bank in Gaza City, where three money-changers were on hand to exchange the payments in United States dollars to shekels, the Israeli currency used in Gaza.
Fares Akram contributed reporting from Gaza City, Said Ghazali from Jerusalem, and Somini Sengupta from New York.
Assessing the Damage
And Destruction in Gaza
The NewYork Times
(August 15, 2014) — The damage to Gaza’s infrastructure from the current conflict is more severe than the destruction caused by either of the last two Gaza wars, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) and other organizations with staff on the ground, like Oxfam and Human Rights Watch.
The fighting has displaced about a fourth of Gaza’s population. Nearly 60,000 people have lost their homes, and the number of people taking shelter in Unrwa schools is nearly five times as many as in 2009. The cost to Gaza’s already fragile economy will be significant: the 2009 conflict caused losses estimated at $4 billion — almost three times the size of Gaza’s annual gross domestic product.
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