Friday, January 09, 2009

So What's This All About?

In the Grauniad:

The Israeli military may have committed war crimes in Gaza, the UN's most senior human rights official said tonight, as Israeli troops pressed on with their increasingly deadly offensive in defiance of a UN security council resolution demanding a ceasefire.

Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, singled out the killing this week of up to 30 Palestinians in Zeitoun, south-east of Gaza City, when Israel shelled a house where its troops had told about 110 civilians to take shelter.

Pillay, a former international criminal court judge from South Africa, told the BBC the incident "appears to have all the elements of war crimes". She called for "credible, independent and transparent" investigations into possible violations of humanitarian law.

The accusation came as Israel kept up its two-week-old air and ground offensive in Gaza and dismissed as "unworkable" the UN security council resolution calling for "an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire". Protests against the offensive were held across the world today as diplomacy to halt the conflict appeared to falter.

With the Palestinian casualty toll rising to around 780 dead and more than 3,100 injured, fresh evidence emerged today of the Zeitoun killings.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said in a report it was "one of the gravest incidents since the beginning of operations" against Hamas militants in Gaza by the Israeli military on 27 December.

OCHA said the incident took place on 4 January, a day after Israel began its ground offensive in Gaza. According to testimonies gathered by the UN, Israeli soldiers evacuated about 110 Palestinians to a single-storey house in Zeitoun. The evacuees were instructed to stay indoors for their safety but 24 hours later the Israeli army shelled the house. About half the Palestinians sheltering in the house were children, OCHA said. The report also complains that the Israeli Defence Force prevented medical teams from entering the area to evacuate the wounded.

The OCHA report does not accuse Israel of a deliberate act but calls for an investigation. Responding to the report, an Israeli military spokeswoman, Avital Leibovich, told AFP news agency: "From initial checking, we don't have knowledge of this incident. We started an inquiry but we still don't know about it."

Among the dead were nine members of the Samouni family; a picture of three of the family's children in blood-stained clothing laid on a morgue floor and in front of their grieving father was shown in the Guardian on Tuesday. The father, Wael Samouni, said dozens of people had been sheltering in the house after Israeli troops ordered them and neighbours to stay inside.

"Those who survived, and were able, walked two kilometres to Salah Ed Din road before being transported to the hospital in civilian vehicles," the UN said.

Rescuers from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said they were able to reach the area on Wednesday only after being allowed safe passage by Israel.

The ICRC issued a statement on the incident yesterday, accusing the Israeli military of "unacceptable" delays in allowing medics safe access to injured Gazans.

This is, ahem, probably going to be a bit of a PR problem. Especially if this is the response:

Israel has accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields and has said militants have fired rockets from rooftops of homes and mosques.

Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, said: "Israel wants to see no harm to the children of Gaza. On the contrary, we would like to see their children and our children grow up without the fear of violence. Until now, Hamas has deliberately prevented that from becoming reality."

Mark? Buddy? Find a new line of work. This doesn't even pass the laugh test.

Meanwhile, at the UN:

Fighting in Gaza has continued despite yesterday's UN security council resolution calling for an "immediate" and "durable" ceasefire and the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. The resolution was passed with 14 out of 15 members in support of the resolution. The US abstained from the vote.
Wait, so they're straight-up ignoring a UN security council resolution? Creative reinterpretation is one thing, everybody does that, but ignoring it?

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