Dec 27, 2010, 15:33 GMT
Gaza City – Two years after its three-week offensive in Gaza, the deadliest in 43 years of occupation, Israel has still not been held accountable for alleged war crimes committed in the campaign, a Palestinian rights group charged Monday.
‘This offensive, the single most brutal event in the history of the occupation, was characterized by systematic violations of international law,’ said the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) on the second anniversary of the start of the war.
Israel launched the campaign of massive shelling from the air, ground and sea upon Hamas targets in the strip on December 27, 2008, in response to a period of near daily rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian militants at southern Israel.
The aerial bombardments and ground fighting in the densely populated coastal enclave caused massive destruction and, according to PCHR, 1,419 Palestinians were killed – the highest toll in Israeli-Palestinian violence since Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt in the 1967 Six-Day War.
The Palestinian group said that 83 per cent of the dead were civilians and non-combatant policemen. Another 5,300 were injured.
‘In the two years since the offensive, there have been no concrete steps taken towards the fulfilment of victims’ legitimate rights to’ justice and compensation, charged the group.
It pointed out that numerous reports, including that of a UN fact- finding mission headed by South African judge Richard Goldstone, had found strong evidence that Israeli soldiers committed war crimes during the offensive, including the use of white phosphorous smoke screens in densely populated urban areas, as well as the use of civilians as ‘human shields.’
Only three soldiers have been convicted since the Gaza war, said the group, one of whom was sentenced to seven months in jail for stealing a credit card, while two others received a three-month suspended sentence for using a nine-year-old boy as a human shield.
‘This is an insult to victims and to the universal rule of law,’ it said. It called on the international community to act to hold Israel accountable.
‘Impunity serves only to encourage continued violations of international law. Without accountability, how can the civilians of the Gaza Strip feel safe again?’ it said.
The Israeli military said it was formulating a reaction.
It has, in the past, defended its actions by saying it did all it could to avoid civilian casualties in the urban areas from where Palestinian militants were firing their rockets and mortar shells by, for example, giving advance warnings of airstrikes.
Israel has also insisted that it has been holding serious internal investigations of specific cases in which Israeli soldiers were accused of having committed crimes. So far, however, the Israeli government has rejected demands to set up an inquiry independent of the military.