U. N. finds ev­i­dence of war crimes by both sides in Gaza

Ha­mas and Is­rael re­ject the panel’s find­ings on abuses in the sum­mer con­flict.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Bat­sheva So­bel­man So­bel­man is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent. Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dents Ma­her Abukhater in Ra­mal­lah and Rushdi abu Alouf in Gaza City con­trib­uted to this re­port.

JERUSALEM — A United Na­tions spe­cial in­ves­tiga­tive panel has con­cluded that both Is­rael and the Pales­tinian mil­i­tant group Ha­mas may have been guilty of war crimes dur­ing last sum­mer’s Gaza Strip war.

In a re­port re­leased Mon­day, the com­mis­sion, ap­pointed by the U. N. Hu­man Rights Coun­cil, said it had gath­ered “sub­stan­tial ev­i­dence point­ing to se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian law and in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights” by both sides that in some cases “may amount to war crimes.”

Both sides im­me­di­ately re­jected the find­ings, deny­ing any com­plic­ity in war crimes, although Ha­mas and the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity wel­comed the crit­i­cism of Is­rael.

The 50- day war broke out in July af­ter the ab­duc­tion and killing of three Jewish teens in the West Bank and the sub­se­quent kid­nap­ping and burn­ing of a Pales­tinian youth in what ap­peared to be a re­venge at­tack. With ten­sion es­ca­lat­ing, Is­rael launched a crack­down on Ha­mas in the West Bank and the mil­i­tants un­leashed re­peated rocket at­tacks on Is­rael, lead­ing to an Is­raeli as­sault on the coastal en­clave.

The fight­ing be­came the fiercest mil­i­tary clash be- tween Is­rael and Ha­mas, re­sult­ing in the deaths of 2,251 Pales­tini­ans — more than half of whom were civil­ians, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. More than 11,000 were in­jured and the conf lict caused wide­spread dev­as­ta­tion to civil­ian prop­erty and in­fra­struc­ture through­out the Gaza Strip.

The re­port also ac­knowl­edges the “tragic re­sults of hos­til­i­ties” on the Is­raeli side, where civil­ians were pinned down in bomb shel­ters as thou­sands of rock­ets were fired from Gaza. Six­ty­seven Is­raeli sol­diers died in the conf lict, and rock­ets killed six civil­ians in Is­rael.

The panel said it was “deeply moved by the im­mense suf­fer­ing” of Pales­tinian and Is­raeli vic­tims alike and urged both sides to take “im­me­di­ate steps to en­sure ac­count­abil­ity,” call­ing Is­rael’s in­ves­ti­gat­ing mech­a­nisms “f lawed” and Pales­tinian in­ves­ti­ga­tions “woe­fully in­ad­e­quate.”

Is­rael re­leased its own re­port on the conf lict last week, de­fend­ing the need for mil­i­tary ac­tion and ac­cus­ing Ha­mas of war crimes.

The Is­raeli mil­i­tary con­tin­ues to re­view 190 cases of sus­pected vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional law, and the mil­i­tary ad­vo­cate gen­eral has or­dered sev­eral crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions as it con­tin­ues to ex­am­ine the rest.

Is­rael did not co­op­er­ate with the U. N. in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Tes­ti­mony was heard in Amman, Jor­dan, and in Geneva as well as elec­tron­i­cally and through writ­ten sub­mis­sions and open sources.

The panel’s re­port cites Is­raeli mis­sile strikes in densely pop­u­lated neigh­bor­hoods as pos­si­ble war crimes, say­ing the lo­ca­tion of the tar­gets, the weapons used and the tim­ing of the at­tacks in­di­cated that the Is­rael De­fense Forces may not have done ev­ery­thing fea­si­ble to avert civil­ian ca­su­al­ties.

Also cited as pos­si­ble war crimes were the killings of 21 sus­pected col­lab­o­ra­tors by Ha­mas’ armed wing.

A state­ment from Is­rael’s For­eign Min­istry on Mon­day ex­pressed re­gret that the re­port equates “Is­rael’s moral be­hav­ior” with that of the “terror or­ga­ni­za­tions it con­fronted.”

“Is­rael does not com­mit war crimes. Is­rael de­fends it­self from a terror or­ga­ni­za­tion that calls for its de­struc­tion and com­mits many war crimes,” Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said in the par­lia­ment.

Pales­tini­ans ex­pressed sat­is­fac­tion with the panel’s find­ings about Is­rael, but Ha­mas re­jected what it called a false bal­ance be­tween the two sides.

“Ha­mas be­lieves that the U. N. con­dem­na­tion of the Zion­ist oc­cu­pa­tion in the re­port of the re­cent of­fen­sive on Gaza and com­mit­ting war crimes against our chil­dren, women and el­derly peo­ple is a pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment, de­spite the at­tempt of equal­ity be­tween the vic­tim and ex­e­cu­tioner,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a Ha­mas spokesman.

Chief Pales­tinian ne­go­tia­tor Saeb Erekat said the “state of Palestine” would re­view the find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions in keep­ing with its “staunch com­mit­ment” to en­sur­ing re­spect for in­ter­na­tional law.

Carolyn Cole Los An­ge­les Times

A CHILD wounded by a blast in Gaza City in July. A U. N. re­port says civil­ians ac­counted for more than half of the 2,251 Pales­tini­ans killed in last year’s war.

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