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January 8, 2009

Israel May Face Charges for War Crimes


by Mel Frykberg

RAMALLAH - Israel has committed war crimes and should be prosecuted in an international court, says Raji Sourani, head of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza.

"The repeated bombing of clearly marked civilian buildings, where civilians were sheltering, crosses several red lines in regard to international law," Sourani told IPS.

Palestinian Authority (PA) delegate to Britain Professor Manuel Hassassian has said the PA will launch legal proceedings against Israeli leaders it says are responsible for war crimes in Gaza, according to a Palestinian news report.

Another 22 Palestinians were killed Wednesday morning in bombing and shelling as Israel's Operation Cast Lead entered day 11. The dead included four people killed in the shelling of a children's playground near a mosque in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza city.

Six Israelis were treated for shock as several rockets from Gaza hit Israel.

Hassassian's comment came in the wake of Israeli shelling of a UN school in Jabaliya refugee camp Tuesday afternoon which killed over 40 Palestinians. Several other UN schools in the Gaza Strip were also hit in the last few days, resulting in a number of casualties.

The UN called for an investigation, stating that prior to the current operation the Israelis were given the precise coordinates of all UN institutions in Gaza.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has already condemned an Israeli attack on two members of the Palestinian Red Crescent (PRC) last week. The ICRC said the medics were wearing fluorescent jackets, their ambulances were clearly marked, and their flashing lights were on.

Nihal al-Akras, chairman of the Palestinian Health Care Committees, asked the international community to pressure Israel to stop firing on medical facilities and workers in the Gaza Strip.

Akhras's comments followed Tuesday's bombing of the ad-Dura hospital in the Rimal neighborhood of Gaza city. Three mobile clinics provided by a Danish NGO, DanChurchAid, were also destroyed.

"We've been able to help the wounded and suffering so far because our vehicles have been present and ready inside Gaza. This possibility of emergency aid is now in ruins," said Henrik Stubkjær, secretary general of DanChurchAid.

"We are deeply shocked that the Israeli air strikes directly prevent the humanitarian aid effort," he added.

According to DanChurchAid the clinics were clearly marked with red crosses and were parked in the Union of Healthcare headquarters.

"One Palestinian doctor and three medics have been killed during Israel's bombing campaign which began on December 27," Sammy Hassan, spokesman for Gaza's Shifa Hospital told IPS.

While Israel has denied that it deliberately targets civilians, reading between the lines of reports in the Israeli media and admissions by military leaders would suggest that the lives of Palestinian civilians are secondary to saving Israeli soldiers.

Several senior Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) officers have admitted that the IDF strategy is to use tremendous firepower on the ground to protect Israeli soldiers during fighting in civilian areas, a senior officer explained to journalists on Tuesday.

"For us, being cautious means being aggressive," said one officer. "From the minute we entered, we've acted like we're at war. That creates enormous damage on the ground.

"When we suspect that a Palestinian fighter is hiding in a house, we shoot it with a missile and then with two tank shells, and then a bulldozer hits the wall. It causes damage but it prevents the loss of life among soldiers."

The IDF suffered significant military casualties during the 2006 Lebanon war, and the top brass realized that a repeat of this would erode public morale and the country's political will. The Israeli cabinet took all this into account prior to the ground operation into Gaza.

Additionally, limited global reaction – due to the lack of international media on the ground in Gaza following an Israeli ban – to several of the more serious incidents of civilian casualties has emboldened Israel to a certain degree.

Even during the Lebanon War following similarly serious attacks by Israel on Lebanese civilians, a ceasefire took weeks to be enforced.

However, Israel has not been completely immune from the world's outrage. Following international pressure on the escalating humanitarian crisis, Israel has agreed to establish a humanitarian corridor near Gaza city.

Israeli military operations will be halted for threehours every day to allow humanitarian aid to reach Gaza's besieged population through this corridor.

"The idea is for the Israeli military to lay down its weapons every day from 1 pm to 4 PM starting today (Wednesday) in the area of the city of Gaza," an Israeli source was quoted as saying.

Israeli leaders met in Tel Aviv Wednesday morning to discuss expanding the ground offensive during a period when most of the aims of the operation have been reached, according to a number of Israeli analysts.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Ehud Barak – the war cabinet's troika – reportedly discussed an even more intensive campaign in Gaza's towns and cities. Israel is hoping to inflict as much damage as possible to Hamas's personnel and infrastructure.

(Inter Press Service)

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Mel Frykberg writes for Inter Press Service.

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