UN report says Israel used boy as human shield, Israel denies

JERUSALEM/GENEVA: Israel on Tuesday slammed as “one-sided” a report by a UN human rights investigator which said its three-week war on the Gaza Strip was possibly a war crime.

“Unfortunately this is a further example of the very one-sided, unbalanced and unfair attitude of the (UN) Human Rights Council,” government spokesman Mark Regev told AFP.

“This sort of report does the service of human rights no good whatsoever,” he said. “It’s a politicization of human rights.”

The UN special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, said in a report on Monday that there was “reason” to conclude that Israel’s massive military offensive on Gaza in December and January was a war crime.

Falk said that in order to determine if the war was legal, it was necessary to assess if the Israeli forces could differentiate between civilian and military targets in Gaza.

“If it is not possible to do so, then launching the attacks is inherently unlawful, and would seem to constitute a war crime of the greatest magnitude under international law,” Falk wrote in the report.

“On the basis of the preliminary evidence available, there is reason to reach this conclusion,” he added, pointing out that attacks were targeted at densely populated areas.

On Monday UN human rights expert said Israeli soldiers used an 11-year-old Palestinian boy as a human shield during the offensive on Gaza.

The Israeli Defense force ordered the boy to walk in front of soldiers being fired on in the Gaza neighborhood of Tel Al-Hawa and enter buildings before them, said the UN secretary-general’s envoy for protecting children in armed conflict.

The boy also was told to open the bags of Palestinians – presumably to protect the soldiers from possible explosives – before being released at the entrance to a hospital, Radhika Coomaraswamy said.

She said the Jan. 15 incident, after Israeli tanks had rolled into the neighborhood and during “intense operations,” was a violation of Israeli and international law.

It was included in a 43-page report published Monday, and was just one of many verified human rights atrocities during the three-week war between Israel and Hamas that ended Jan. 18, she said.

Coomaraswamy accused Israeli soldiers of shooting Palestinian children, bulldozing a home with a woman and child still inside, and shelling a building they had ordered civilians into a day earlier.

“Violations were reported on a daily basis, too numerous to list,” said Coomaraswamy, who visited Gaza and Israel for five days in February.

Coomaraswamy said there also have been allegations that Hamas used human shields or fired from heavily populated areas, and that UN officials are investigating.

Israel criticized the report as “unable or perhaps unwilling” to address Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza or the threat of terrorism, citing Saturday’s failed attempt to explode a car bomb in a Haifa mall parking lot as the most recent manifestation.

“The report claims to examine Israel’s actions while it willfully ignores and downplays the terrorist and other threats we face,” Ambassador Aharon Leshno Yaar told the 47-nation Human Rights Council.

Leshno Yaar said terrorists use women and children as human shields when they launch attacks from schools, homes, hospitals and mosques. He did not address the report’s specific allegation about the boy, but an army spokesman rejected the claim.

“We are an army to which morals and high ethical standards are paramount,” said Capt. Elie Isaacson.

Coomaraswamy said her list of Israeli violations constituted “just a few examples of the hundreds of incidents that have been documented and verified” by UN officials who were in the territory.

She was the only one of the nine UN experts who compiled the report that was allowed into Gaza following the war. The experts covered issues ranging from health and hunger to women’s rights and arbitrary executions.

The experts also noted reports that Hamas had committed other abuses. They said Hamas had been unwilling to investigate the allegations.

The report called for Israel to investigate human rights abuses that occurred during the conflict.

Last week Israel’s military ordered a criminal inquiry into published reports from soldiers that some troops had knowingly killed Palestinian civilians, including children.

Meanwhile, Falk had focused his report on the legal issues arising from the war, as he had been unable to enter Gaza to assess the human rights situation on the ground.

He attempted a mission in December – before Israel launched its 22-day offensive – but was detained by the Israelis and then expelled, with the foreign ministry accusing him of “legitimizing Hamas terrorism”.

“Such a refusal to cooperate with a United Nations representative, not to mention the somewhat humiliating treatment accorded has set an unfortunate precedent with respect to the treatment of a representative of the United Nations Human Rights Council, and more generally of the United Nations itself,” Falk wrote.

Falk has been highly critical of Israel’s policies against the Palestinians, saying in December that they amounted to a crime against humanity.

Falk in January also charged that Israel’s military operations in Gaza raised the “specter of systematic war crimes” and needed to be investigated. — Agencies