World

Amnesty International accuses Israel of war crimes against civilians

The report focuses on eight  attacks by Israel. Israelis say the report makes little mention of acts by Hamas.
Adel Hana/Asscoated Press
The report focuses on eight attacks by Israel. Israelis say the report makes little mention of acts by Hamas.

JERUSALEM — Amnesty International published a report Wednesday accusing Israel of war crimes in its 50-day war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip this summer, saying its military showed “callous indifference” to civilians in airstrikes on homes that felled entire families.

The report also says that “Palestinian armed groups fired thousands of indiscriminate rockets and mortar rounds into civilian areas of Israel,” suggesting violations of international law by both sides.

But virtually all of its 49 pages is devoted to eyewitness testimony and expert analysis of weaponry in eight Israeli attacks that killed 104 people, 59 of them under 18. Amnesty found evidence of military targets in at least four of the cases but argues that the attacks were nonetheless “grossly disproportionate.”

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Among the victims, the report said, were people who had fled their homes after Israeli warnings of danger there and were staying with relatives after having found no space at UN shelters. Though the Israeli military phoned Gaza residents or dropped lighter missiles — called “a knock on the roof” — to warn of some impending bombings, Amnesty said it found no such notice given in some cases.

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An Israeli military spokesman said all eight cases were among more than 90 under after-action review by the military itself, which has moved more swiftly than in previous conflicts to conduct criminal investigations and other probes into soldiers’ and commanders’ conduct. Israel’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the report “accuses Israel of wrongdoing while producing no evidence” and “ignores documented war crimes perpetrated by Hamas,” the militant Islamist movement that dominates Gaza.

Israeli officials said during and since the bloody battles that Hamas endangered civilians and committed the war crime of human shielding by conducting military operations from homes as well as hospitals, mosques, and schools, including several run by the United Nations where weapons were found.

“The report does not mention the word terror in relation to Hamas or other armed Palestinian groups, nor mention tunnels built by Hamas to infiltrate Israel and perpetrate terror attacks,” read the statement from Israel’s embassy in London, where the Amnesty report was released. “By ignoring the nature of the enemy Israel faced in Gaza — a terror group recognized as such by the European Union, the United States, and others — Amnesty’s report fails to contribute to the important discussion needed to solve the conflict.

“Instead,” the statement adds, “Amnesty serves as a propaganda tool for Hamas and other terror groups.”

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During the 50-day war, six civilians, including a 4-year-old boy, were killed on the Israeli side, along with 67 soldiers. Nearly 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 500 children, were killed in Gaza, according to the United Nations; some 100,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed.

“The repeated, disproportionate attacks on homes indicate that Israel’s current military tactics are deeply flawed and fundamentally at odds with international humanitarian law,” Philip Luther, director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa program, said in a statement accompanying the report.

Israel on Tuesday reopened its crossing points into Gaza, two days after closing them in response to a rocket having been fired from Gaza into Israel on Friday night, a violation of the Aug. 26 cease-fire. Robert Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said Tuesday that its reconstruction effort had begun in Gaza, with 700 families being allowed to purchase materials to repair their homes by Monday evening.

But Robert Turner, the Gaza director of the UN Relief and Works Agency, told reporters Tuesday that he does not yet see a functioning Palestinian government on the ground, and he reiterated concerns over Israel’s continued restrictions on Gaza travel and trade. Reuters quoted Turner, whose agency runs education, health, and other services for 70 percent of Gaza’s population, saying, “If we do not have political stability, I think if we do not have a national Palestinian government, I think if we do not have at least an easing of the blockade, yes, there will be another war.”

The Amnesty report calls for both Israel and the Palestinians to join the International Criminal Court so it can prosecute cases from this summer and urges Israel to participate in an inquiry by the UN Human Rights Council that it has so far boycotted out of concern for predetermined bias.