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Amnesty says Israel 'wantonly' destroyed Gaza

The rights group says Israel attacks often targeted Palestinians during the offensive in the Gaza Strip earlier this year.

A Palestinian woman covers her face as white smoke rises from a building following an explosion caused by Israeli military operations in Gaza city on Jan 14, 2009.
A Palestinian woman covers her face as white smoke rises from a building following an explosion caused by Israeli military operations in Gaza city on Jan 14, 2009.

JERUSALEM // Amnesty International said today that Israel inflicted "wanton destruction" in the Gaza Strip in attacks that often targeted Palestinian civilians during an offensive in December and January in the Hamas-run enclave. The London-based rights group, in a 117-page report on the 22 days of fighting, also criticised movement Hamas for rocket attacks on Israel, which it called "war crimes".

Among other conclusions, Amnesty said it found no evidence to support Israeli claims that Gaza guerrillas deliberately used civilians as "human shields", but it did, however, cite evidence that Israeli troops put children and other civilians in harm's way by forcing them to remain in homes taken over by soldiers. Amnesty International said some 1,400 Palestinians were killed in Israel's Operation Cast Lead, including 300 children and hundreds of innocent civilians, a figure broadly in line with those from the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza and the independent Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

The Israeli military put the Palestinian death toll at 1,166 of whom 295 were civilians. Thirteen Israelis were killed, including three civilians, during the offensive Israel launched with the declared aim of curtailing cross-border rocket attacks. Accusing Israel of "breaching laws of war", Amnesty said: "Much of the destruction was wanton and deliberate, and was carried out in a manner and circumstances which indicated that it could not be justified on grounds of military necessity."

Israel and Hamas have both rejected accusations of war crimes. An Israeli military inquiry found no evidence of crimes. Israel has refused to co-operate with a United Nations inquiry that is now gathering evidence. The investigators were prejudiced against Israel from the outset, the government said. Amnesty said although that rockets fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip rarely cause casualties but often sow fear and panic, their use was "indiscriminate and hence unlawful under international law".

It also accused Hamas and other armed groups of endangering the lives of the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza by firing rockets and locating military equipment near homes. The report however dismissed Israeli claims that Hamas had used Palestinian civilians as "human shields". Amnesty said it found no evidence that "Hamas or other armed groups forced residents to stay in or around buildings used by fighters, or that fighters prevented residents from leaving buildings or areas which had been commandeered by militants".

But the report said in several cases Israeli soldiers used Palestinian civilians, including children, as "human shields, endangering their lives by forcing them to remain in or near houses which they took over and used as military positions". *Reuters