Monday, September 15, 2008

Israeli Shelling Of Beit Hanoun Possibly War Crime -UN Report

September 15, 2008

GENEVA (AFP)--Israel's shelling of the Gaza village of Beit Hanoun in November 2006 that killed 19 Palestinian civilians may constitute a war crime and the victims should receive compensation, a U.N. report said Monday.

"In the absence of a well-founded explanation from the Israeli military...the mission must conclude that there is a possibility that the shelling of Beit Hanoun constituted a war crime," said the report of a fact-finding mission headed by South African Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu.

The former South African archbishop and antiapartheid activist will present his report, which also condemns Palestinian attacks on Israel, to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday.

He was mandated by the Council in November 2006 to investigate the incident but only managed to visit Gaza via Egypt in May this year after the Israelis refused three previous attempts to access the coastal strip via their territory.

Following an internal investigation, Israel concluded shelling the civilians' homes was "a rare and grave technical error of the artillery radar system," and announced in February that no charges would be brought against Israeli forces involved in the incident.

But Tutu's report said the "Israeli response of a largely secret internal military investigation is absolutely unacceptable from both legal and moral points of view.

"The mission recommends that the State of Israel pay victims adequate compensation without delay," it said.

Tutu also condemned rocket fire by Palestinian militants based in Gaza against Israeli civilians and said the Islamist Hamas movement in power in the coastal strip was responsible for ensuring it ceased.

"Those in positions of authority in Gaza have not only an international humanitarian law obligation to respect international humanitarian law norms relating to the protection of civilians, but also a responsibility to ensure that these norms are respected by others," the report said.