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Israel 'may be guilty of war crimes'

Wednesday, 1 November, 2000, 23:55 GMT


Israel is accused of breaching its own rules and the Geneva Convention Human rights group Amnesty International has condemned Israel's military tactics in the occupied territories, saying they could amount to war crimes.

Five weeks of Arab-Israeli violence have left some 160 people dead, many of them children, almost all of them Palestinian.

An Amnesty delegation which has just returned from the region said Israeli forces were no longer carrying out investigations into killings - as would have been automatic before the current troubles began.

"There is a pattern of gross human rights violations that may well amount to war crimes," Amnesty's international research director and a member of the delegation, Claudio Cordone, told a news conference in London.

"There is excessive use of force resulting in killings that shouldn't take place.

"If a kid is throwing stones at you but not posing any other risk, you don't shoot him."

Geneva Conventions

Amnesty International also criticised the Palestinians for firing on Jewish settlements and said they had a duty to prevent children from putting their lives at risk.

And it condemned Palestinian officials for their slowness in investigating the mob killings of two Israeli reservists in the West Bank town of Ramallah last month.

But although the group comes down hard on both sides, the weight of its condemnation bears more heavily on Israel.

It says the Israeli forces are breaking their own rules as well as international standards laid down in the Geneva Conventions: namely, that lethal force must only be used to counter an immediate threat to life.

Israel has consistently said it uses whatever force is necessary to protect the lives of its soldiers and civilians.

'Short fuse'

Mr Cordone also repeated long-standing criticism of Israel's failure to use proper policing methods against rioters, including shields to deal with stones and petrol bombs without killing people.

"It tends to be children and others flinging stones, even Molotov cocktails, and the Israeli forces seem to have a pretty short fuse in their answer.

"They therefore tend to react with combat reflexes as opposed to what would be proper policing methods," he said.

One of only two cases Israel is looking into is that of 12-year-old Palestinian boy Rami al-Durra, who was shot dead in his father's arms in scenes broadcast around the world.

The Amnesty delegation is the group's second to visit the region since fighting broke out on 28 September.

The latest findings go much further than its earlier criticism that Israeli troops were using "excessive force" against Palestinians.

Amnesty condemns Israel, says civilians' lives must be respected

Published Monday October 02, 2000

By staff report


Amnesty International condemned indiscriminate killings of civilians following four days of clashes in Israel and the Occupied Territories which have left at least 50 Palestinian civilians dead and hundreds of others injured.

"The dead civilians, among them young children, include those uninvolved in the conflict and seeking safety," the human rights organization said, "The loss of civilian life is devastating and this is compounded by the fact that many appear to have been killed or injured as a result of the use of excessive or indiscriminate force."

"Israeli security forces appear to have used indiscriminate lethal force on many occasions when their lives were not in danger," Amnesty International said, "We have been saying for years that Israel is killing civilians unlawfully by firing at them during demonstrations and riots. International standards clearly state that governments should develop as broad as possible a range of non-lethal incapacitating weapons and that firearms are a last resort."

On 29 September, hundreds of Israeli police and border guards entered the Aqsa Mosque compound after Friday prayers, apparently in response to stone-throwing by Palestinians. Israeli security forces opened fire on civilians indiscriminately, resulting in the death of at least five Palestinians and the injury of dozens of others.

Clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian demonstrators broke out all over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as in Israel since Friday. There have also been armed confrontations between the Israeli and Palestinian security forces. The Israeli army has used rubber-coated metal bullets and admitted using live ammunition on some occasions. Israeli helicopter gunships apparently killed a 10-year-old boy on the roof of a house in Nablus on 10 October, and shot at buildings in Gaza.

"This is excessive and indiscriminate use of force is in contravention of international human rights standards which state that police and security forces may only use firearms in extreme circumstances, when life is in danger and other means are ineffective. These standards apply in all situations, including in times of emergency." Amnesty International said.

"Civilian deaths will continue unless the Israeli authorities take this message to heart."



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