Israel’s Gaza Shelling Possible War Crime: Tutu

Israel’s shelling of the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun in November 2006 that killed twenty civilians, including eight children and four women, in their sleep may constitute a war crime, said a UN report released on Monday, September 15.

"In the absence of a well-founded explanation from the Israeli military — who is in sole possession of the relevant facts — 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.

Israeli occupation forces bombarded houses in the battered northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun, killing twenty Palestinians, including eight children and four women, in their sleep.

Pools of blood laid in the streets as pieces of flesh and the small sandals of children were strewn about.

The Israeli military claimed it decided to fire artillery against sites in the Beit Hanoun on the basis of intelligence that rocket attacks on Israel were being planed.

An Israeli military committee in February blamed the fatalities on "a rare and severe failure in the artillery fire control system."

Following an internal investigation, it decided that no legal action would be taken against military personnel.

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

The report also condemned rocket fire by Palestinian factions based in Gaza against Israeli targets.

Tutu, former South African archbishop who serves as an independent UN human rights, regretted that Israel did not cooperate with his investigation.

Though mandated by the UN Human Rights Council in November 2006 to investigate the incident, the mission only managed to visit Gaza in May this year.

Tutu dismissed the Israeli travel ban and refusal to allow interviews with Israeli actors as "obstacle to the balance that Israel seeks."

He visited the occupied Palestinian territory, travelling through Egypt, after three requests to travel through Israel and interview Israeli officials and those living near the Gaza border were refused.

Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for his non-violent struggle against apartheid in South Africa, underlined the need for an "independent, impartial and transparent investigation."

He insisted that Israel must be held accountable for the attack against Beit Hanoun, home to more than 35,000 inhabitants of whom about 70 percent are registered refugees.

"Regardless of whether the casualties at Beit Hanoun were caused by a mistake, recklessness, criminal negligence or willful conduct, those responsible must be held accountable," Tutu stressed.

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


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