Thursday, 13 August 2009

Israeli troops killed unarmed civilians during Gaza offensive, say human rights group

Human Rights Watch says Israeli soldiers killed unarmed, white flag-waving Palestinian civilians during its January offensive in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli army says it's checking the report.

GAZA REUTERS - Human Rights Watch called on Israel on Thursday (August 13) to investigate seven incidents in which it said Israeli troops shot dead Palestinian civilians who were waving white flags during January's war in the Gaza Strip.
The New York-based lobby group urged governments to press for prosecutions under international law if the Jewish state did not take action itself.

Human Rights Watch said it had statements and other evidence indicating 11 unarmed people, including five women and four children, were shot dead while holding or waving white flags.

The group's deputy director of Middle East Division, Joe Stork, said: "They were unarmed, they had no hostile intent. But still, Israeli soldiers, in many cases after calling them out of their homes, shot them."

A Gaza observer group put civilian deaths at over 900 out of over 1,400 Palestinians it said were killed, while Israel said just under 300 civilians and some 900 fighters were killed.

Thirteen Israelis - ten soldiers and three civilians - died during the three-week long conflict.

In one case documented by the human rights group, on January 7th in eastern Jabalya, two women and three children from the family of Khalid Abed Rabbo were standing in front of their home after an Israeli soldier ordered them outside. Three were reportedly holding white cloths when a soldier near a tank opened fire, killing two girls, aged two and seven, and severely wounding their three-year-old sister, and elderly grandmother.

In a video produced by the family, the girls' father said he thought that waving white flags would make the Israeli soldiers recognise they were civilians.

Human Rights Watch, in a news release, stated that the accounts from the witnesses, tank tracks, an ammunition box and bullet casings found at the scene, and an examination of the grandmother's wounds by forensic experts indicated that the Israeli soldier fired upon identifiable and unarmed women and children.

Army spokeswoman for the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, Major General Avital Leibovich, said that the Human Watch Report was based on unverified testimonies, and that the Israeli army had taken efforts to avoid civilian causalities by distributing more than two million warning flyers and making more than 300 phone calls to the homes of those she described as terrorists.

She said due to Hamas' "cynical exploitation of civilians as human shields" the reality in the Gaza Strip was "complex and challenging."

The Human Rights Watch report concluded that "the evidence strongly indicates that, at the least, Israeli soldiers failed to take feasible precautions to distinguish between civilians and combatants before carrying out the attack. At worst, the soldiers deliberately fired on persons known to be civilians."

Umm Soad, mother of the girls who died, said in the family video that her eldest daughter was killed first, then her youngest, and later her middle child and mother-in-law "who can hardly walk" were injured.

Her husband said the soldiers who ordered them to come out of the house were on a tank eating chips and chocolate.

"We stood for about five minutes waving white flags, and they were looking at us. They didn't tell us to enter the house or leave," he said.

In a recent interview he told Reuters he hoped the soldiers would be indicted for the killing of his children.

"Killing of innocent children should never go unpunished," he said.

He said his three-year-old daughter was shot four times in the chest and is now paralysed. She is receiving treatment in Belgium. He says he hasn't seen her since she was taken there seven months ago.

Last week, Human Rights Watch said Palestinian militant groups' rocket fire from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip to Israel was a "war crime" towards both the Israeli and Palestinian civilian populations.

Israel has rejected international criticism of the Gaza offensive it said was launched to curb rocket attacks on its towns by Hamas in Gaza. It says it is investigating allegations but has not yet found cause to prosecute any of its soldiers.