Monthly Archives: April 2015

‘Israel responsible for Gaza strikes on UN schools and shelters, inquiry finds’

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/27/israel-responsible-gaza-strikes-un-schools-ban-ki-moon?CMP=share_btn_fb

“Israel was responsible for striking seven United Nations sites used as civilian shelters during the 2014 Gaza war in which 44 Palestinians died and 227 others were injured, an inquiry ordered by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has concluded.

Releasing the report on Monday, Ban condemned the attacks “as a matter of the utmost gravity” and said “those who looked to them for protection and who sought and were granted shelter there had their hopes and trust denied”.

Ban insisted that UN locations were “inviolable”.

The issue is particularly sensitive as the locations of all UN buildings – including schools used as shelters – are routinely provided to the Israeli military and updated in times of conflict.

Ban’s criticism was contained in the published summary letter of a confidential internal report, commissioned by the secretary general in November, running to 207 pages.

In his letter Ban also hit out at Palestinian militant groups for putting some UN schools in Gaza at risk by hiding weapons in three locations that were not being used as shelters.

“I am dismayed that Palestinian militant groups would put United Nations schools at risk by using them to hide their arms.”

He added, however, that: “The three schools at which weaponry was found were empty at the time and were not being used as shelters.”

Israeli diplomats had exerted pressure on the UN to delay publication of the report until the completion of Israel’s own investigations into the attacks – conducted by the Israeli military advocate general Danny Efroni. Israel’s military in September opened five criminal investigations into its Gaza war operations, including attacks on some of the UN schools and an incident that killed four Palestinian children on a beach.

The UN inquiry, which examined both forensic evidence and testimonies of UN staff in Gaza during the 50-day war last summer, concluded seven incidents were attributable to the Israel Defence Forces.

Ban added: “I will work with all concerned and spare no effort to ensure that such incidents will never be repeated.”

Although the report has no legal status, the disclosure of the inquiry’s findings comes at a difficult time for Israel on the international stage, facing increasing international isolation over its policies and following the acceptance of the Palestinian Authority as a signatory to the International Criminal Court earlier this month.

The attacks on UN schools being used as shelters were among some of the mostcontroversial incidents of the war. International humanitarian law – while complex – requires attacking forces in areas where there are non-combatants to protect civilians and adhere to the principle of proportionality, safeguards even more stringent when civilians are under UN protection.

In one of the most serious incidents, the UNRWA school in Jabaliya was struck by Israeli fire, killing 20 people and wounding dozens.

In the aftermath of the attack Israel claimed – including in a report into the incident – that soldiers near the school were had come under fire.

In another incident that saw Israeli munitions strike a UN school in Beit Hanoun 15 Palestinians were killed in the playground as they awaited evacuation while dozens more injured.

Israeli sources had originally tried to suggest that the attack had been due to a Hamas weapon falling short.

The UN inquiry – separate form an inquiry launched by the UN Human Rights Council – was headed by retired general Patrick Cammaert, a former officer in the Dutch military and included military and legal experts.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed during the Gaza conflict last July and August. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed by rockets and attacks by Hamas and other militant groups.

The details of the contents of the board of inquiry are confidential and only Ban’s covering letter has been made public. Conceding that the report was of “considerable interest” he said he had taken the decision to release a summary of the inquiry’s findings.

The report was compiled from analysis of weapons, medical reports, photographs and video footage, and submissions and testimonies both by UN staff and other organisations.

Ban thanked Israel for its cooperation in preparing the report and allowing investigators to access Gaza.

Ban wrote: “I deplore the fact that at least 44 Palestinians were killed as a result of Israeli actions and at least 227 injured at United Nations premises being used as emergency shelters. United Nations premises are inviolable and should be places of safety, particularly in a situations of armed conflict.”

He added: “I note this is the second time during my tenure as secretary general that I have been obliged to establish a board of inquiry into incidents involving United Nations premises and personnel in Gaza that have occurred during the course of tragic conflicts in the Gaza Strip.

“Once again I must stress my profound and continuing concern for the civilian population of the Gaza Strip and Israel, and their right to live in peace and security, free from the threat of violence and terrorism.”

When Ban visited Gaza in October, he said the destruction was “beyond description” and “much more serious” than what he witnessed in the Palestinian territory in 2009 in the aftermath of a previous Israel-Hamas war.

Ban said on Monday he has established a group of senior managers to look into the inquiry’s recommendation. A number of questions remain unaddressed in the summary of the report, not least the issue of what communications there were between UN staff and the Israeli military in particular ahead of the attack on the school in Beit Hanoun when UN staff are understood to have communicated to Israeli forces their intention to bus out civilians who were waiting for evacuation at the time of the attack.

Also unaddressed is why Israeli forces fired on designated protected locations outside of the principle of immediate self-defence when they were aware of concentrations of civilians sheltering there.

Chris Gunness, spokesman for UNRWA, which runs Gaza’s UN schools said: “The inquiry found that despite numerous notifications to the Israeli army of the precise GPS coordinates of the schools and numerous notifications about the presence of displaced people, in all seven cases investigated by the Board of Inquiry when our schools were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, the hit was attributable to the IDF.

“The board confirms the use by the IDF of weaponry such as 120 mm high explosive anti-tank projectiles and 155 MM high explosive projectiles on or in the surrounding area of UNRWA schools where civilians had taken refuge. In the incidents investigated at least 44 people were killed and 227 injured including women and children. In none of the schools which were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, were weapons discovered or fired from. If it were confirmed that militants did fire rockets from our schools we would condemn it, just as we robustly we condemned other violations of our neutrality.”

“The findings of the secretary general’s inquiry are fully consistent with the statements made by UNRWA that we did not hand any weapons over to Hamas. The Board of Inquiry has not found any evidence that we did. The Board of Inquiry found that upon the first discovery UNRWA senior management notified local authorities in Gaza about the weapons and asked for their removal. Within days of the first unprecedented discovery, the UN had established a mechanism for dealing with the weaponry and by the time of the third discovery, international experts were on hand.”

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‘B’Tselem: new low in Israeli authorities’ disregard for lives of Palestinians in Occupied Territories

http://www.btselem.org/press_releases/20150414_state_attorney_decision_in_samir_awad_killing

“Today Israel’s State Attorney’s Office notified the High Court of Justice (HCJ) that in the case of Palestinian youth Samir ‘Awad it had decided, “subject to a hearing and to the end of privilege proceedings”, to file an indictment for the minor offense of committing “a reckless and negligent act using a firearm”. The State’s response did not note which of the soldiers involved was to stand trial.

This is a new low in Israeli authorities’ disregard for the lives of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. The State Attorney’s Office has sent security forces in the Occupied Territories a clear message: if you kill an unarmed Palestinian who poses no threat, we will do everything to cover it up and ensure impunity. Killing a wounded, fleeing youth who posed no threat by shooting him in the back is not a “reckless and negligent act”. The disparity between the grave action and the minor offense is incomprehensible and outrageous.

It is also not clear why it took two years and a petition to the HCJ for the authorities to decide to serve this indictment. Had the petition not been filed, would the Military Advocate General’s (MAG’s) Corps have continued to drag its feet? When, exactly, were the authorities planning to end this sorry affair? Sixteen-year-old Samir ‘Awad was killed in January 2013 by soldiers close to the Separation Barrier in the West Bank village of Budrus. He was shot in the back although he posed no danger to anyone. The Military Police Investigations Unit (MPIU) has long since completed all aspects of the investigation into the incident, yet although more than two years have passed since then, no decision was reached until today. The boy’s father, Ahmad ‘Awad, petitioned the HCJ together with B’Tselem a little over a year ago, in March 2014, to have the MAG decide whether to indict the soldiers who killed his son or close the case file.

Background on the incident

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‘Beyond Inhumane’: ‘Catastrophe in Yarmouk’

http://imeu.org/article/beyond-inhumane-catastrophe-in-yarmouk

  • Founded in 1957 just south of the Syrian capital of Damascus, the Yarmouk refugee camp was home to approximately 150,000 Palestinian refugees prior to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Today, there are approximately 18,000 Palestinian refugees and Syrians remaining in Yarmouk, including approximately 3,500 children. The rest have fled to other parts of Syria or neighboring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon.
  • Yarmouk has been besieged by the Syrian army since late 2012, when rebels fighting to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad occupied the camp, causing starvation and diseaseAt least 200 Palestinians and Syrians have starved to death in Yarmouk as a result. On April 6, 2015, the UN warned that residents were subsisting on approximately 400 calories a day, out of a needed 2,000.
  • On April 1, 2015, fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) launched an assault on Yarmouk, taking control of most of the camp within a few days, reportedly beheading two of the camp’s Palestinian defenders amidst fears of wider atrocities. Additionally, the Syrian armed forces reportedly began dropping “barrel bombs” on Yarmouk on April 5 in an effort to stop ISIS’ advance on Damascus.
  • The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has been unable to deliver desperately needed supplies since the fighting began on April 1. According to UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness: “That means that there is no food, there is no water and there is very little medicine… The situation in the camp is beyond inhumane.”
  • The violence in Yarmouk highlights the dire situation that Palestinians in Syria face as they attempt to navigate the complex political realities of the country and the unrest that has ravaged it over the last four years. According to the UN, approximately 220,000 Syrians have been killed since 2011, including more than 76,000 in 2014 alone. Estimates of the number of Palestinians killed vary. According to Palestinian officials, between 1,000 and 1,300 Palestinians have been confirmed killed, with about the same number missing and unaccounted for, while The Action Group for Palestinians of Syria puts the number of Palestinian fatalities at 2725.
  • Prior to the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, there were approximately 526,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, living in nine official and three unofficial camps run by the UNRWA, the largest of which was Yarmouk.
  • Most of the Palestinian refugees in Syria, including Yarmouk, arrived in the country after being expelled from their homes during Israel’s creation in 1948. Most are originally from the northern part of Mandate Palestine, mainly from Safad, Haifa, and Jaffa. For nearly seven decades, Israel has denied them their internationally-recognized right to return, as enshrined in Resolution 194, passed by the UN General Assembly in”
  • December 1948, which stipulated: “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their
  • neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.”

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‘Palestine formally joins International Criminal Court’

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/04/palestine-formally-joins-international-criminal-court-150401073619618.html

“Palestine has formally attained membership of the International Criminal Court, a move that could open the door to possible war crime indictments against Israeli officials despite uncertainty over its wider ramifications.

The accession on Wednesday is another landmark in the Palestinian diplomatic and legal international campaign, which gained steam in 2014.

The Palestinians moved to join The Hague-based court on January 2, in a process that was finalised on Wednesday, setting the scene for potential legal action.

“Palestine has and will continue to use all legitimate tools within its means in order to defend itself against Israeli colonisation and other violations of international law,” said senior Palestinian official Saeb Erakat.

Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from The Hague, said despite their membership, the Palestinians may still have to wait for the ICC to begin investigating Israelis accused of war crimes.

“This is such a heavily politicised case, that the court will have to think hard before taking action against the Israelis. It may be years before we something.”

Diana Chehade, a former ICC official, told Al Jazeera, preliminary examinations could be completed by the end of this year, but the court would not investigate cases already being looked in to by other judicial institutions.

“Based on the principle of complimentarity, the ICC would not investigate if an Israeli judicial institution is investigating a war crime to ICC standards,” Chehade said.

‘ICC train left’

The ICC has long been brandished as one of the Palestinians’ doomsday measures, along with threatening to end vital West Bank security coordination with Israel.

The notion of ICC investigations is outrageous to Israel, and Netanyahu has accused the Palestinian unity government – including Hamas which the Jewish state considers “terrorist” – of “manipulating” the court.

Israel retaliated swiftly and cut off millions of dollars in monthly tax payments it collects on behalf of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority.

The notion of forming a Palestinian state by negotiations was buried during this month’s election campaign by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who pledged one would not be established on his watch, were he to retain his post as prime minister.

Netanyahu meanwhile released the held funds, which constitute two-thirds of the PA’s income, excluding foreign aid.

Some Israeli media reported that in exchange for unfreezing the money the Palestinians agreed to refrain from filing complaints to the ICC on April 1.

“It’s a huge lie. Taxes have nothing to do with our ICC approach. The ICC train already departed,” said Xavier Abu Eid, a spokesman for Palestine Liberation Organisation.

‘Absurd’ measures

April 1, however, will be primarily ceremonial, with Palestinian foreign minister Riad Malki receiving a copy of the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty.

While some Palestinian officials announced the date as the day they would file complaints against Israelis, in reality it is more likely they will wait, as state members are only able to draw the court’s attention to specific cases.

In addition, they will be holding on to see the outcomes of a preliminary probe launched by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on January 16.

At the same time that Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas sought ICC accession, he also sent the court documents authorising the prosecutor to investigate alleged crimes that took place in Palestinian territories since June 13, 2014.

The unrest in June escalated to the summer war between Israel and Gaza fighters, which left dead 2,200 Palestinians and 73 on the Israeli side.

So far, no ICC investigation of Israeli officials has been launched and no time framework has been set for one.

But the Palestinians are confident they will happen sooner rather than later, considering “all the attention to Palestine” at the ICC.

The Palestinians reject the argument the Israeli officials cannot be tried at the ICC, because Israel is not a signatory of the Rome Statute, maintaining the court can also investigate crimes committed on the territory of member states.

“It’s absurd for the ICC to ignore international law and agreements, under which the Palestinians don’t have a state and can only get one through direct negotiations with Israel,” Netanyahu said in January following the announcement of the preliminary probe.

Among the forms of Israeli retaliation is legal assistance for victims of Palestinian attacks.

In February, a US jury found the PA and PLO responsible for six attacks which killed dozens and ordered them to pay the victims’ families more than $650 million in damages.

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