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Amnesty accuses warcrimes { November 4 2002 }

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November 4, 2002
Amnesty Accuses Israeli Forces of War Crimes

JERUSALEM, Nov. 3 A new report by Amnesty International contends that Israeli forces committed war crimes in Jenin and Nablus this spring during a large-scale offensive in the West Bank, killing Palestinians unlawfully, blocking medical care, using people as human shields and bulldozing houses with residents inside.

The report was formally submitted to Israeli officials today.

"The information in this report suggests that the Israeli Defense Forces committed violations of international law during the course of military operations in Jenin and Nablus, including war crimes, for which they must be held accountable," the new report says in its conclusion.

A report issued by the group in July called attacks by Palestinian militants on Israeli civilians crimes against humanity.

A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry called the report one-sided, asserting that it "ignores the fact that Israel is in the midst of an armed conflict that was imposed on it."

"Israel is struggling to defend its citizens against Palestinian terrorism that is deliberately conducted from behind the civilian population, including the use of children and ambulances," the spokesman said. "Israel regrets any harm to innocent people, and the Israel Defense Forces continue to make every effort to avoid harm to civilians."

The Israeli authorities will study the cases in the report, the spokesman said, but "our experience has shown that many Palestinian claims have proven to be unfounded."

The army chief of staff at the time of the spring offensive, Shaul Mofaz, was recently chosen by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to be defense minister in a new coalition government he is trying to form. According to Israeli press reports, Mr. Mofaz returned a day early from a lecture tour in England last week after a Muslim group there filed a suit accusing him of war crimes.

The 76-page Amnesty International study, which used stronger language than a similar report in July by the United Nations secretary general, focuses on Israeli Army actions between April and June in Nablus and Jenin, in the West Bank. It is based on interviews with witnesses, medical crews and aid workers, visits to sites of the fighting, autopsies by a forensic specialist and assessments by a military expert.

The Jenin refugee camp and the old city in Nablus were the scenes of the fiercest fighting and the heaviest losses on both sides during the Israeli offensive, which began at the end of March after a series of suicide bombings and deadly shooting attacks in Israel.

Citing accounts by witnesses and on-site investigations by Amnesty International delegates, the report describes incidents in which unarmed Palestinian civilians were fatally shot in custody or while in their homes. In one incident on April 6, a man was shot and killed after he was seized with other men in the Jenin refugee camp, the report says. In another incident, the previous day, a woman was killed when soldiers used explosives to blow open the door of her house as she went to open it.

In Nablus, again on April 6, eight members of a single family were killed, including three children, their pregnant mother and an 85-year-old grandfather, when their house was bulldozed.

The report says soldiers used people as human shields, forcing them to walk in front of soldiers and to enter homes and rooms suspected of being booby-trapped or of sheltering gunmen.

"The soldiers would have us walk in front of them, sometimes with them resting their rifles on our shoulders," said Amer Abdel Karim, 24, who was arrested in the Jenin refugee camp on April 9. "At times they were exchanging gunfire and shooting from people's shoulders."

The report also cites cases in which prisoners were beaten, often with rifle butts and sometimes severely, including one case in which a detainee died.

Ambulances and aid organizations were prevented by Israeli forces from reaching the areas of combat even after it was reported that the fighting had stopped, the report says.

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