Israel accused of Gaza war crimes 15Sep09 September 17, 2009

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Financial Times  – 15 September 2009

In a damning report on Israel’s conduct during its invasion of the Gaza Strip, a United Nations panel on Tuesday accused its forces of war crimes and of deliberately spreading terror among civilians.

Richard Goldstone, a South African jurist, who chaired the four-member panel on behalf of the UN Human Rights Council, said the alleged crimes resulted from military policies adop­ted in the invasion at the turn of the year. He said the findings in the 574-page document “do not amount to second-guessing commanders and soldiers in the heat of battle”.

His panel urged action by the UN Security Council that could lead to alleged crimes being referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The panel’s investigation, with which Israel refused to co-operate, said the military operations in Gaza, aimed at ending Palestinian rocket fire from the territory, were “directed at the people of Gaza as a whole”.

The report, handed to Israeli and Palestinian diplomats just half an hour before its release, comes a week before Barack Obama, US president, is expected to chair a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in New York to try to restart the peace process.

Mr Goldstone, who was chief prosecutor in war crime trials involving former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, said: “As a Jew, with a long affiliation with Israel, it’s obviously a disappointment to me – putting it mildly – that Israel has behaved as described in the report.”

He said there was no justification in international law for incidents such as an attack on a crowded Gaza mosque, even if Israel had been able to establish its erroneous claim that arms and militants were inside.

The Israeli government refused to allow the UN panel to visit Israel or the occupied West Bank after previous negative UN assessments of its conduct in Gaza. The panel visited Gaza and interviewed Israeli witnesses elsewhere.

Israel regards the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, which the US attended for the first time on Monday since joining it, as fundamentally anti-Israeli.

In a report that also condemns Hamas in Gaza for failing to halt rocket fire and take action against the perpetrators, the Goldstone panel accuses Israel of failing to investigate war crimes against international law in an operation in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed.

He urged the UN Security Council “as soon as possible” to establish a committee to determine whether, after a period of six months, Israel had pursued adequate investigations into alleged war crimes. He said Israeli probes so far had relied on the testimony of soldiers rather than victims and had been held in secret.

Separately, George Mitchell, US envoy to the Middle East, will continue talks on Wednesday with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli premier, to try to wrap up a deal to freeze Jewish settlement activity as a step to renewing the Middle East peace process.


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