Evidence of Israel, Hamas war crimes in Gaza: U.N.
Evidence shows that both the Israeli army and Palestinian militants committed war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity, during the December-January Gaza war, the United Nations said on Tuesday, Reuters reported.
"The mission concluded that actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly in some respects crimes against humanity, were committed by the Israel Defense Force," U.N. investigator Richard Goldstone told reporters.
A summary of his nearly 600-page report on the fact-finding mission's conclusions also said the firing of rockets into Israel by Palestinian militants where there were no military targets would also constitute war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.
"The rocket and mortar attacks have caused terror in the affected communities of southern Israel, causing loss of life and physical and mental injury to civilians, as well as damage to buildings and property," it said.
Israel reacted quickly with a statement issued by its diplomatic mission in Geneva that criticized Goldstone's mission and explained why Israel did not cooperate with it.
"Its mandate was clearly one-sided and ignored the thousands of Hamas (Palestinian militants) missile attacks on civilians in southern Israel that made the Gaza operation necessary," the statement said.
Goldstone, a noted South African jurist, recommended that the U.N. Security Council call on Israel to investigate possible crimes committed by its forces. The probe should be "independent and in conformity with international standards" and establish a committee of human rights experts to monitor any such proceedings.
If Israel fails to do so, then the 15-nation council should refer the situation in Gaza to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the summary said.
The Gaza war, codenamed Operation Cast Lead, began on December 27 and ended on January 18.
An Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem, said last week in a new report that of 1,387 Palestinians killed in the war 773 were civilians.
Israel has said 709 combatants, 295 civilians and 162 people whose status it was unable to clarify were killed. Thirteen Israelis, 10 soldiers and three civilians, died.
Israel has rejected international criticism of an offensive it said was launched to curb Hamas rocket attacks on its towns. Israel says it is investigating allegations but has not yet found cause to prosecute any of its soldiers.
Goldstone, a former judge in both South Africa's Supreme Court and Constitutional Court, led a commission of inquiry into political violence and police hit squad activities in the early 1990s in his homeland.
The investigator said verbal attacks on his mission by Israel and pro-Israeli groups were "disappointing," though understandable given the politically charged atmosphere.
Goldstone said Israel's blockade of Gaza, which began prior to the assault, amounted to "collective punishment" for the 1.5 million Gazans, most of whom rely on aid to survive. The summary said that Israel's Gaza operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, not just Hamas militants.
His report said Israeli forces "humiliated, dehumanized and carried out an assault on the dignity of the people in Gaza, through the use of human shields, unlawful detentions, unacceptable conditions of detention ... obscenities and racist slogans."
It said the use of human shields is a war crime and that a court could find that the blockade of Gaza, which Israel continues to enforce, is itself a crime against humanity.
Goldstone's report also criticized Israel for firing white phosphorus incendiary shells over the U.N. compound in Gaza and its "intentional strike" on the Al Quds hospital using high explosive artillery shells and white phosphorus.
Israeli shells hit and damaged several U.N. facilities in the Gaza Strip during the conflict, which U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned.
The report said an Israeli soldier held by Hamas militants since June 2006, Gilad Shalit, has prisoner-of-war status and should be treated humanely according to the Geneva Convention.