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Israel accused of Gaza war crimes in Amnesty report

Israeli forces killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians and destroyed thousands of Gaza Strip homes in attacks that amounted to war crimes, Amnesty International charged yesterday, in the first in-depth human rights group report on the recent war in Gaza.

Amnesty called on Israel to publicly pledge not to use artillery, white phosphorus and other imprecise weapons in densely populated areas. And it urged Gaza's militant Hamas rulers to stop rocket fire against Israeli civilians — attacks it also described as war crimes.

Amnesty — which first accused Israel of war crimes shortly after the fighting ended on January 18 — said “disturbing questions” remain about why high-precision weapons like tank shells and air-delivered bombs and missiles “killed so many children and other civilians”.

The group deplored Israel's use of less-precise artillery shells and highly incendiary white phosphorous in built-up areas. It also accused Israeli forces of using Palestinians as “human shields” and frequently blocking civilians from receiving medical care and humanitarian aid.

The pattern of Israeli attacks and the high number of civilian casualties “showed elements of reckless conduct, disregard for civilian lives and a consistent failure to distinguish between military targets and civilians and civilian objects”, Amnesty said.

More than 1,400 Palestinians, including 900 civilians, were killed during the three-week offensive, according to Gaza health officials and human rights groups. Israel, which launched the war to halt rocket and mortar attacks on its southern communities, puts the death toll closer to 1,100.

It says the vast majority of the dead were militants, though it has refused requests to provide a list of the dead.

Amnesty said 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians were among the dead. Thirteen Israelis also were killed, including three civilians who died by rocket fire. The Israeli military rejected the report's findings, saying it did not properly recognise “the unbearable reality of nine years of indiscriminate rocket fire on the citizens of Israel”.

The report, the military added, ignored the military's efforts to minimise civilian casualties in a battlefield where Hamas used residential areas and mosques as cover to stage attacks.

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