Tue Sep 15, 2009 11:35am EDT
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – There is evidence that both the Israeli army and Palestinian militants committed war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity, during the recent conflict over the Gaza Strip, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
“The mission concluded that actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly in some respects crimes against humanity, were committed by the Israel Defense Force,” U.N. investigator Richard Goldstone told reporters.
A summary of his nearly 600-page report on the fact-finding mission’s conclusions also said the firing of rockets into Israel by Palestinian militants where there were no military targets would also constitute war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.
Israel reacted quickly, saying in a statement issued by its diplomatic mission in Geneva that it did not cooperate with Goldstone’s investigation.
“Its mandate was clearly one-sided and ignored the thousands of Hamas (Palestinian militants) missile attacks on civilians in southern Israel that made the Gaza operation necessary,” the statement said.
Goldstone recommended to the U.N. Security Council that it demand that Israel launch investigations into possible crimes committed by its forces that are “independent and in conformity with international standards” and establish a committee of human rights experts to monitor any such proceedings.
If Israel fails to do so, then the 15-nation council should refer the situation in Gaza to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the summary said.
A Gaza observer group has said over 900 of more than 1,400 Palestinians killed in the conflict were civilians. Israel said just under 300 civilians and some 900 fighters were killed. Thirteen Israelis, 10 soldiers and three civilians, died.
Israel has rejected international criticism of an offensive it said was launched to curb rocket attacks on its towns by Hamas in Gaza — attacks which human rights groups also condemn as war crimes. Israel says it is investigating allegations but has not yet found cause to prosecute any of its soldiers.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Doina Chiacu)