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1.8.2009

UN: IDF officers admitted Gaza school shelling was by mistake

By Barak Ravid and Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent (1/8/09)

The United Nations is claiming Israeli military officers have admitted the tank firing on the UNRWA school in Gaza, in which dozens of Palestinians were killed, was an error.

In addition, UNRWA Thursday announced it will cease activities in the Strip due to the death of an UNRWA staffer in an IDF shelling during Thursday morning's humanitarian hiatus.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told Haaretz yesterday that the army had conceded wrongdoing.

"In briefings senior [Israel Defense Forces] officers conducted for foreign diplomats, they admitted the shelling to which IDF forces in Jabalya were responding did not originate from the school," Gunness said. "The IDF admitted in that briefing that the attack on the UN site was unintentional."

He noted that all the footage released by the IDF of militants firing from inside the school was from 2007 and not from the incident itself.

"There are no up-to-date photos," Gunness said. "In 2007, we abandoned the site and only then did the militants take it over."

The UNRWA is now demanding an objective investigation into whether the school shelling constituted a violation of international humanitarian law, and if so, that those responsible stand trial.

The UN reported Thursday that a Palestinian working for the UNRWA was killed by an IDF tank shell while driving an aid truck at the Erez border crossing. The organization claims the UN truck was well-marked and the incident took place during the humanitarian hiatus slated to allow Gaza residents to acquire supplies

 

Red Cross: Israel breaking int'l law, letting children starve in Gaza

By Reuters (1/8/09)

The International Committee of the Red Cross on Thursday accused Israel of delaying ambulance access to the Gaza Strip and demanded it grant safe access for Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances to return to evacuate more wounded.

Relief workers said they found four starving children sitting next to their dead mothers and other corpses in a house in a part of Gaza City bombed by Israeli forces, the Red Cross said on Thursday.

"This is a shocking incident," said Pierre Wettach, ICRC chief for Israel and the Palestinian territories.

"The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestinian Red Crescent to assist the wounded," Wettach said.

The agency said it believed Israel had breached international humanitarian law in the incident.

An Israeli offensive launched in the Hamas-controlled Gaza
Strip on Dec. 27 to end rocket attacks by Islamic militants has drawn increasing international criticism over mounting civilian casualties.

Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances and ICRC officials managed to reach several houses in the Zeitoun area of Gaza City on Wednesday after seeking access from Israeli military forces since last weekend, the ICRC statement said.

The rescue team "found four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses," the ICRC said.

"They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. In all there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses," it said.

In another house, the team found 15 survivors of Israeli shelling including several wounded, it said.

Three corpses were found in another home. Israeli soldiers posted some 80 meters (yards) away ordered the rescue team to leave the area which they refused to do, it said.

The ICRC said it had been informed that there were more wounded sheltering in other destroyed houses in the area.

"The ICRC believes that in this instance the Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuated the wounded. It considers the delay in allowing rescue services access unacceptable," it said.

Rights group Amnesty International says U.S. response to Gaza 'lopsided'

By Reuters (1/2/2009)

Human rights group Amnesty International on Friday accused the United States of having a "lopsided" response to the crisis in Gaza and told the top U.S. diplomat to press all sides to reach an immediate cease-fire.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Amnesty's U.S. branch said the U.S. government must not ignore Israel's "disproportionate response" against Gaza and policies the group said had brought Hamas-ruled Gaza to the brink of "humanitarian disaster."

"Amnesty International USA is particularly dismayed at the lopsided response by the U.S. government to the recent violence and its lackadaisical efforts to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza," the group told Rice in the letter, which was released to the media by Amnesty.

Amnesty said it was also deeply concerned by weaponry and military equipment supplied to Israel by Washington that the group said had been used in recent strikes on densely populated residential areas in Gaza.

"The United States must suspend the transfer of weapons to Israel immediately and conduct an investigation into whether U.S. weapons were used to commit human rights abuses," said Amnesty.

The United States came under heavy criticism during Israel's 2006 war with Lebanon for supplying cluster bombs to Israel that were used in the conflict.

The United Nations estimates that Israel dropped a few million cluster bombs on Lebanon. Hundreds of thousands of those bomblets failed to explode and have continued to maim and kill after that war's end.

Amnesty also urged the United States to put pressure on Israel to open border crossings into Gaza to human rights workers and journalists and to allow humanitarian aid through.

A U.S. State Department official who requested anonymity rejected claims that the U.S. response had been pro-Israeli or lopsided.

Asked about claims Israel was using disproportionate force, he said: "The use of force is based on military objectives. Israel has never claimed that this is vengeance. They are looking to end Hamas' ability to attack Israel."

Israel launched an air campaign a week ago against Gaza in retaliation for rocket.

 

If you (or I) were Palestinian

By Yossi Sarid (1/2/2009)

This week I spoke with my students about the Gaza war, in the context of a class on national security. One student, who had expressed rather conservative, accepted opinions - that is opinions tending slightly to the right - succeeded in surprising me. Without any provocation on my part, he opened his heart and confessed: "If I were a young Palestinian," he said, "I'd fight the Jews fiercely, even by means of terror. Anyone who says anything different is telling you lies."

His remarks sounded familiar - I had already heard them before. Suddenly I remembered: About 10 years ago they were uttered by our defense minister, Ehud Barak. Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy had asked him then, as a candidate for prime minister, what he would do had he been born Palestinian and Barak replied frankly: "I would join a terror organization."

This is not my own answer; terrorism by individuals or organizations or states is always aimed at exacting casualties in a civilian population that has not drawn any blood. Not only is terror blind - consuming both the saint and the sinner - it also expands the circle of the hot-headed, whose blood rises to their brains: Our blood is on their heads, their blood is on our heads. And when an account of the blood of the innocent is opened, who can pay it in full, and when?

I hate all the terrorists in the world, whatever the purpose of their struggle. However, I support every active civil revolt against any occupation, and Israel too is among the despicable occupiers. Such revolt is both more just and more effective, and it does not extinguish one's spark of humanity. And perhaps I'm just too much of an old codger to be a terrorist.

But, and pay attention to this but, if a normative young person has a spontaneous answer that is different from mine, and that answer also escaped the mouth of an Israeli lieutenant general, then every individual must see himself as though his son is running with the wrong crowd. If things were the other way around, our son-whom-we-loved would be a damned terrorist, almost certainly, because he is of the third and fourth generation of refugeehood and oppression, and whence cometh salvation? He has nothing to lose but his chains.

Whereas we, his mother and father, would be weeping for the departing son because he will never return to see the land of his birth and us, except in his photograph on the wall as a shahid, a martyr. Would we detain him before he carries out his plan? Would we be able to hold him back if we wanted to? Would we not understand what he is feeling? What Ehud Barak understood in his day - would that be impossible for us to understand?

Young people who have no future will easily give up their future, which they can't see on the horizon. Their past as guttersnipes and their present as cursed unemployed idlers lock the opening to their hope: Their death is better than their life, and their death is even better than our life, as their oppressors - that is how they feel. From the day they are born to the day they leave this earth, they see their land ahead, to which they will not come as free people.

There are no good and bad peoples; there are only leaderships that behave responsibly or insanely. And now we are fighting those whom a goodly number of us would be like, had we been in their place for 41 and a half years.
 


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