Tuesday 20 January 2009

Israel 'can be tried for war crimes'

Human rights group Amnesty International accuses Israel of war crimes, saying its use of white phosphorus shells in Gaza was indiscriminate.

"Such extensive use of this weapon in Gaza's densely populated residential neighborhoods is inherently indiscriminate," Donatella Rovera, a Middle East researcher with Amnesty International, said in a statement on Monday.

"Its repeated use in this manner, despite evidence of its indiscriminate effects and its toll on civilians, is a war crime," she charged.

The statement was released after British weapons expert Chris Cobb-Smith found widespread evidence of the use of the incendiary material in an on-the-ground study on Sunday.

"We saw streets and alleyways littered with evidence of the use of white phosphorus, including still-burning wedges and the remnants of the shells and canisters fired by the Israeli army," he said in a statement.

"It is highly incendiary, air burst and its spread effect is such that it should never be used on civilian areas," he explained.

While international law permits the use of white phosphorus as an obscurant to conceal troop movement and prevent the enemy from using certain guided weapons, its use remains controversial, as white phosphorous can burn through flesh to the bone or cause liver, kidney, heart, lung or bone damage and even lead to death.

Amnesty is not the first group to accuse Israel of using white phosphorus during its three-week onslaught on Gaza -- Human Rights Watch and the United Nations are also among the international bodies that charged the Israeli army with using such munitions.

Israel's shelling of the UN Relief and Works Agency headquarters in Gaza on Jan 15 left the UN compound among the places worst-affected by the use of the controversial chemical, Amnesty said.

The attack plunged Israel's relations with the world body to a new low with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanding an investigation into the shelling.

According to medical experts, white phosphorus -- also known by the military as WP or Willie Pete - is not the only controversial weapon used against Gazans.

After working for 10 days at the Shifa Hospital in the war-torn Palestinian territory, Doctors Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse -- members of a Norwegian triage medical team in Gaza -- said the Palestinian territory is now being used by Israel "as a test laboratory for new weapons."

The Norwegian doctors said the kinds of injuries they had witnessed proved that Dense Inert Metal Explosives (DIME) was being used in the embattled territory.

Survivors close to the lethal range of the DIME weapon may have their limbs amputated as their soft tissues and bones are shredded to pieces. The victims may also subsequently contract cancer from the micro-shrapnel embedded in their body tissue within just four to six months.

Statistics released by the Palestinian bureau of statistics further prove the humanitarian crisis in the region, as it shows that some 4,100 homes were totally destroyed and 17,000 others damaged in the three-week war.

After 22 days of intense Israeli military operations in Gaza, and the death of nearly 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, Tel Aviv declared a unilateral ceasefire late Saturday, but added that its forces would remain in place for the time being.

Hamas later on Sunday announced a ceasefire in Gaza and gave Israel a one-week ultimatum to completely withdraw its troops from the Palestinian territory.

Analysts believe the Israeli military operation has imperiled the so-called two-state solution of the Middle East peace process.


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