Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Guardian uncovers evidence of Israeli war crimes in Gaza Part 2

Guardian investigation uncovers evidence of alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza Part 2:

"Part 2 deals with the targetting of medics and medical facilities

Palestinians claim children were used as human shields and hospitals targeted during 23-day conflict

Medics and ambulance drivers said they were targeted when they tried to tend to the wounded. Sixteen of them were killed. According to the World Health Organisation, more than half of Gaza's 27 hospitals and 44 clinics were da More..maged by Israeli bombs. Two clinics were destroyed. In one incident, paramedics were fired on by a tank using a shell filled with 8,000 lethal metal darts as they were carrying a wounded man to an ambulance.

In a report released today, doctors for Human Rights Israel said there was 'certainty' that Israel violated international humanitarian law during the three-week war in January, with attacks on medics, damage to medical buildings, indiscriminate attacks on civilians and delays in medical treatment for the injured.

'We have noticed a stark decline in IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] morals concerning the Palestinian population of Gaza, which in reality amounts to a contempt for Palestinian lives,' said Dani Filc, chairman of Physicians for Human Rights Israel.

The Guardian gathered testimony of missile attacks by Israeli drones on clearly distinguishable civilian targets. In one case a family of six was killed when a missile hit the courtyard of their house. Israel has not admitted to the use of drones but military experts say their optical equipment is good enough to clearly identify individual items of clothing worn by targets.

The Israeli military issued a statement in response to the allegations saying: "The IDF operated in accordance with the rules of war and did the utmost to minimise harm to civilians uninvolved in combat. The IDF's use of weapons conforms to international law."

The IDF said an investigation was under way into allegations that hospitals were targeted. A statement said Israeli soldiers were under standing orders to avoid harming medics, but added: "However, in light of the difficult reality of warfare in the Gaza Strip carried out in urban and densely populated areas, medics who operate in the area take the risk upon themselves."

The use of human shields was outlawed by Israel's supreme court in 2005 after a string of incidents. The IDF said only Hamas used human shields by launching attacks from civilian areas.

An Israeli embassy spokesman said any allegations from Gaza were suspect because of Hamas pressure on witnesses. "Anyone who understands the realities of Gaza will know that these people are not free to speak the truth. Those that wish to speak out cannot for fear of beatings, torture or execution at the hands of Hamas," the spokesman said in a written statement.

However, the accounts gathered by the Guardian are supported by the findings of human rights organisations and soldiers' testimony published in the Israeli press.

An IDF squad leader is quoted in the daily newspaper Ha'aretz as saying his soldiers interpreted the rules to mean "we should kill everyone there [in the centre of Gaza]. Everyone there is a terrorist.

"To write 'death to the Arabs' on the walls, to take family pictures and spit on them, just because you can," the squad leader said. "I think this is the main thing: To understand how much the IDF has fallen in the realm of ethics, really. It's what I'll remember the most."

Last week, a group of 16 of the world's leading war crimes investigators and judges called on the UN to launch a full inquiry into "alleged gross violations of the laws of war committed by both sides during the recent conflict in Gaza and southern Israel".

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