Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
U.N. panel sees evidence of war crimes in Gaza
Israel and Hamas both criticized for actions last year
JERUSALEM — A United Nations special investigative panel has concluded that 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.
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 between 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 conflict caused widespread devastation to civilian property and infrastructure throughout the Gaza Strip.
Seventy-three people, mostly military personnel, died on the Israeli side.
“The effects of this devastation had a severe impact on the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza and will do so for generations to come,” the report says.
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 conflict, 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 “flawed” and Palestinian investigations “woefully inadequate.”
Israel released its own report on the conflict 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 offen- sive 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.