- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 2, 2009

UNITED NATIONS | Two new reports criticize Israel’s December invasion of the Gaza Strip, a 22-day military occupation that cost an estimated 1,400 Palestinian lives.

London-based Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) in New York both concluded in recent reports that the Israeli army used indiscriminate force resulting in the deaths of hundreds of likely non-combatants.

In addition to highly accurate unmanned drones, Amnesty said, Israel used a number of weapons that are inappropriate for close urban warfare: among them white phosphorus, which burns fabric and flesh, and tank shells filled with thousands of flechettes, razor-sharp metal darts.

“The scale and intensity of the attacks on Gaza were unprecedented,” Amnesty International stated in its 117-page report.

“Some 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians who took no part in the conflict were among the 1,400 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.”

Both Israel and Egypt have closed the borders to Gaza since January 2006, when Hamas was elected to lead the Palestinian government. Bankrolled by Iran and nurtured by Syria, Hamas refuses to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist.

Israeli Defense Forces began the aerial assault of Gaza, called “Operation Cast Lead,” on Dec. 27 in response to mortars and rockets fired into southern Israel by Hamas’ military. The Israeli government counted hundreds of projectiles, which killed three civilians and wounded hundreds.

The Israeli military put the Palestinian death toll at 1,166, of whom 295 were civilians. Thirteen Israelis were killed, including three civilians.

Gaza is not much improved now, five months after the invasion.

More than 3,000 homes were destroyed and an estimated 20,000 were damaged during the aerial attacks and later invasion, reducing some neighborhoods to wreckage, Amnesty International found.

Hundreds of Palestinians are still homeless and staying with relatives or others.

Rebuilding has been especially difficult, said the head of the U.N. Palestinian relief office, because Israel will not permit past its Gaza checkpoints most raw materials necessary for construction.

“Because there’s been no change and the borders are not open, things are deteriorating,” warned Karen Koning AbuZayd, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a panel assembled by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon assessed $11 million worth of damage to UNRWA schools, clinics and other buildings where Gazans sought shelter. Mr. Ban two weeks ago told reporters he would seek restitution for the damage.

Amnesty and HRW sent investigators to Gaza shortly after Israeli soldiers withdrew. Both groups said the Israeli government declined to meet with their representatives, or answer questions in writing.

HRW, whose report is available on its Web site, examined six incidents with a combined death toll of 29 civilians - none of them, the group stressed, near any kind of weapon or military target.

“Drone operators can clearly see their targets on the ground and also divert their missiles after launch,” Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst, wrote in the HRW report. “Given these capabilities, Israel needs to explain why these civilian deaths took place.”

An Israeli military inquiry found no evidence of war crimes, Reuters news agency reported. Israel has refused to cooperate with a United Nations inquiry that is now gathering evidence. The investigators were prejudiced against Israel from the outset, the government said.

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