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02 July 2009
The international human rights group Amnesty International has issued a report accusing Israel of inflicting what it describes as "wanton destruction" during its recent 22-day offensive on militants in the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces are countering, saying they acted according to international law.
Amnesty International's report, released in Jerusalem Thursday, accuses the Israeli military of acting with total disregard for civilians and their property during the offensive in December and January.
Amnesty says it found no evidence to back Israeli claims that militants used civilians as human shields. The group accuses Israeli soldiers of endangering civilians - including children - by forcing them to stay in buildings that had been taken over by Israeli forces.
Donatella Rovera headed Amnesty's fact-finding mission to the Gaza Strip during the assault and is the author of the report. She tells VOA her team found evidence that Israeli forces carried out indiscriminate attacks on civilians, killing, by Amnesty's estimates, 1,400 people, half of them civilians - 300 of them children.
"The other pattern is the destruction, the wanton destruction of large areas of the Gaza Strip. Thousands of homes, businesses, public buildings - destruction that was for the most part not justified on the grounds of military necessity," she said.
The report also speaks of Israeli forces preventing medical teams from reaching the wounded during the assault.
Amnesty says militants in Gaza - controlled by Hamas - are also to blame for the indiscriminate firing of homemade rockets into southern Israel. Those rocket attacks, which Amnesty calls war crimes, killed three people during the three-week Israeli assault known as Operation Cast Lead.
The alleged violations raised by Amnesty in this report are not new and have been decried by human rights advocates in the months since the Israeli operation. Rovera says she believes Israel, Hamas, and the international community have not addressed the complaints.
"They continue to be important because until now there has been no willingness by either side to either change their practices or to hold accountable those responsible for the abuses," she said.
Amnesty complains the Israeli authorities are not allowing their fact-finding teams into Gaza to follow-up on the alleged violations.
The Israeli military responded to the report Thursday, saying its forces acted in accordance to international law. It says the forces often warned civilians to get out of the way by dropping leaflets or calling them on their cell phones a few minutes before the attacks. And, it says Israel continues to investigate some complaints.
In a strongly worded statement, the Israel Defense Forces calls the report questionable and objectionable, saying it does not properly recognize the reality that Israeli civilians have been targeted by incessant and indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas militants for nine years.