Hamas, Israel reject Amnesty claims

Cast Lead report accuses IDF of reckless use of weapons, Gaza groups of committing war crimes.

Gaza damage 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Gaza damage 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Hamas joined Israel on Thursday afternoon in rejecting a 105-page Amnesty International report that accused Israel of the reckless use of weapons and wanton destruction during Operation Cast Lead, and Gaza terror groups of committing war crimes by firing rockets at the Israeli civilian population. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the report "unbalanced, unfair and unprofessional," blasting what he said was a comparison of the aggressors to the victims. Zuhri called the firing of rockets "self defense," saying it was a legitimate response to Israel's actions. On Wednesday night, the IDF said it was surprised that "a respectable organization" like Amnesty did not appropriately portray the unbearable reality of constant rocket attacks that Israeli citizens suffered from for the past eight years. "It appears that [Amnesty] fell victim to Hamas manipulations," the IDF said. "We did not find an appropriate reference in the report to the reality in the Israeli home front or Israel's security constraints and therefore we find the report not to be balanced," the IDF statement read. The report, the IDF said, ignores the efforts the military made to minimize harm to innocent civilians. "During Cast Lead, the IDF used technologies, combat methods and advanced platforms all intended to minimize the risk to the civilian population," the statement read. The IDF said that in many cases, before entering an area in Gaza, it dropped millions of flyers, made personal phone calls to homes of Palestinians and broke into the radio waves to warn civilians of the impending operation. "We stress that the IDF aimed all of its operations against military targets and refrained from deliberately attacking civilians who were not involved in the fighting while putting its own soldiers at risk," the statement continued. According to the figures published in the report, entitled "Operation Cast Lead: 22 Days of Death and Destruction," 1,400 Palestinians were killed during the fighting, which lasted from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009. Of these, 300 were children, more than 115 were women and about 85 were men over the age of 50. Amnesty said that another 200 of the men who were under 50 were unarmed civilians who were not combatants. Some 5,000 Palestinians were wounded during the fighting. Amnesty International also found that more than 3,000 Palestinian homes and hundreds of other properties were destroyed during the fighting and more than 20,000 structures were damaged. In addition to private homes, the organization said that the IDF destroyed factories, workshops, animal farms, orchards, government buildings, police stations and prisons. "Much of the destruction was wanton and resulted from direct attacks on civilian objects as well as indiscriminate attacks that failed to distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilian objects. "Hundreds of civilians were killed in attacks carried out using high-precision weapons - air delivered bombs and missiles and tank shells. Others, including women and children, were shot at short range when posing no threat to the lives of the Israeli soldiers," stated the report. Donatela Rovera, the Amnesty International chief researcher for Israel and the territories, said that although Operation Cast Lead was not an illegal operation per se, many of the attacks carried out by the IDF during the operation violated international law. Rovera, who spoke to reporters before the report was released, said Amnesty was concerned by two aspects of the IDF's use of weapons. One was the question of why such high-precision weaponry fired from tanks and aerial vehicles caused so much collateral damage and casualties to the civilian population, considering how accurate they are. The report charged that the IDF deliberately carried out direct attacks on civilian targets and medical personnel and vehicles using these high-precision weapons. The other question was why, at the same time, the IDF used far less-precise weapons, including mortars, artillery and white phosphorus, in densely populated residential areas. One section of the report rejected Israel's charge that Hamas systematically used medical facilities, vehicles and uniforms as a cover for terrorist operations, saying it had provided no evidence to prove its case. The report quoted Israeli authorities as saying Palestinians had fired 571 rockets and 205 mortar shells during Operation Cast Lead. Three Israeli civilians were killed in these attacks. Since 2004, 18 Israeli civilians have been killed, including four children. Regarding these attacks, Amnesty International wrote, "Whether or not attacks actually result in civilian casualties, they are in violation of international law, which also prohibits attacks aimed at spreading terror among the civilian population. The patterns of attacks and statements by members and leaders of Palestinian groups also indicated that they have no qualms about launching attacks against civilians and that they in fact carry out attacks intending to kill and injure Israeli civilians. Such attacks constitute war crimes." During the press conference, Rovera criticized the Israeli government for not willing to meet with Amnesty International researchers during and after the fighting, and of having refused to answer any of the questions they submitted in writing. NGO Monitor, a non-governmental group that monitors human rights organizations, charged that the Amnesty International report "denies that Hamas used human shields, excuses their violations and supports a strategy for Israel's isolation. The Amnesty report blames Israel almost exclusively for the conflict."