Monday, March 16, 2009

Desmond Tutu demands Gaza war crimes inquiry

Leading human rights figures including Archbishop Desmund Tutu have called for the United Nations to launch a war crimes inquiry into the conduct of both Israel and Hamas in the recent fighting in Gaza.

By Dina Kraft in Tel Aviv |
Last Updated: 2:12AM GMT 16 Mar 2009

The letter, supported by Amnesty International, called for “a prompt, independent and impartial investigation”.

It said: “We have seen at first hand the importance of investigating the truth and delivering justice for the victims of conflict and believe it is a precondition to move forward and achieve peace in the Middle East.”

It is signed by 16 judges and investigators into human rights crimes committed in conflicts around the world including the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Darfur and Rwanda.

Since a three-week massive Israeli assault against Hamas militants in Gaza ended in mid-January there have been questions about the nature of the fighting that occurred on the ground.

Israel launched the operation, officials said, in response to ongoing cross-border rocket fire into southern Israel by Hamas and other militant groups but the assault in small, densely populated Gaza where there was nowhere to escape the warplanes and tanks, took a heavily civilian toll.

Some 1,300 Palestinians were killed, and officials say at least half of them were civilians. Thirteen Israelis were killed, among them three civilians from rocket-fire.

“We urge world leaders to send an unfaltering signal that the targeting of civilians during conflict is unacceptable by any party on any count,” said the letter.

The Israeli foreign ministry said the call for an enquiry sounded one-sided.

“Only an NGO like Amnesty International that has no political responsibility has allowed itself to make such allegations based on very partial enquiries and to launch a call to the UN on the basis of partial testimonies and newspaper clippings is totally irresponsible,” said Yigal Palmor, a foreign ministry spokesman.

Israeli officials said repeatedly that troops did their upmost to limit civilian casualties and complained that Hamas fighters hid among civilians on purpose.

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