Both sides accused of Gaza war crimes
UN report cites acts by Israelis, Palestinians
UNITED NATIONS - A UN investigation concluded yesterday that both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, raising the prospect that officials may seek prosecution in the International Criminal Court.
The probe led by former South African judge Richard Goldstone concluded that “Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity,’’ during its Dec. 27-Jan. 18 military operations against Palestinian rocket squads in the Gaza Strip.
In a 575-page report, Goldstone and three other investigators also found evidence “that Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity.’’
Goldstone said the probe, which included interviews as well as a review of documents, photos, and 30 videos, was completed yesterday morning, just hours before the hastily called news conference.
“There should be no impunity for international crimes that are committed,’’ said Goldstone, a veteran war crimes investigator who has served as chief prosecutor for the UN criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. “It’s very important that justice should be done.’’
The report said that Israel’s attacks in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, including the shelling of a house where soldiers had forced Palestinian civilians to assemble, amounted to war crimes.
It found seven incidents in which civilians were shot while leaving their homes trying to run for safety, waving white flags and sometimes even following Israeli instructions. It also cited the targeting of a mosque at prayer time, killing 15 people, as a war crime.
Investigators found no evidence that the mosque was used to store weapons or for any military activity by Palestinian armed groups. But the report said investigators were unable to look more broadly at Israel’s allegation that the mosques were used generally by Palestinian groups for storing weapons.
A “direct and intentional attack’’ on the Al Quds Hospital and an adjacent ambulance depot in Gaza City “may constitute war crimes,’’ the report said.
Several Palestinians told the mission they were used as human shields by the Israeli forces, the report said, noting the case of Majdi Abd Rabbo, a 39-year-old intelligence officer of the Palestinian authority who was forced to walk ahead of the troops as they searched his house and that of his neighbor. Rabbo was forced to undress down to his underwear in front of the soldiers and his sons had to strip naked, the report said.
On the Palestinian side, the report found that armed groups firing rockets into southern Israel from Gaza failed to distinguish between military targets and the civilian population.
“Where there is no intended military target and the rockets and mortars are launched into civilian areas, they constitute a deliberate attack against the civilian population,’’ the report said. “These actions would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity.’’
Goldstone agreed to head up this latest probe only after he had won agreement from the Belgian president of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, which ordered the investigation, to look at Palestinian actions as well.
Israel, which refused to cooperate with the investigation, said the Human Rights Council was biased by its 47-nation constituency, over which Arab and developing nations hold sway. The investigation was ordered earlier this year, before the United States joined as a member.
The investigators have recommended that the Security Council require both sides to launch their own, credible investigation into the conflict within three months, and to follow that up with action in their courts. If either side refuses, the investigators recommend that the Security Council refer the evidence for prosecution by the International Criminal Court, the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal, within six months.
The Palestinian group Hamas rules Gaza and has been accused by Israel of using human shields during the conflict, in which almost 1,400 Palestinians were killed - many of them civilians. Thirteen Israelis died, including four civilians.
“The mandate of the mission and the resolution establishing it prejudged the outcome of any investigation, gave legitimacy to the Hamas terrorist organization and disregarded the deliberate Hamas strategy of using Palestinian civilians as cover for launching terrorist attacks,’’ Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.
Hamas officials were not immediately available for comment.
Goldstone, who is Jewish and has strong ties to Israel, told reporters at UN headquarters that “to accuse me of being anti-Israel is ridiculous,’’ anticipating such criticism. He said it was in the interest of both Israelis and Palestinians to establish the truth of what happened in the conflict.