Amnesty International accuses Israel of war crimes

The Israeli military committed war crimes during its Gaza offensive this summer and must be investigated, human rights monitor Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

The destruction of four multi-story buildings during the last four days of the 50-day war were in breach of international humanitarian law, the group said in a report.

"All the evidence we have shows this large-scale destruction was carried out deliberately and with no military justification," said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa programme.

"War crimes must be independently and impartially investigated and those responsible should be brought to justice in fair trials."

Evidence including statements by the Israeli military at the time indicate the attacks were "a collective punishment against the people of Gaza" designed to destroy their livelihoods, Luther added.

There was no immediate reaction to the Amnesty statement from Israeli authorities.

However, Jerusalem has refused to cooperate with a United Nations inquiry into possible war crimes during the conflict, accusing it of bias.

The Israeli army has launched a series of criminal investigations into incidents in the war, including the shelling of a UN school that medics said killed at least 15 people and the bombing of a beach where four children died.

Critics, however, have said that the investigations by Israel will not be independent.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in the war between Israel and Hamas-led militants, which ended on August 26. On the Israeli side 73 people were killed, 67 of them soldiers.

 Militant facilities 

One of the landmark buildings destroyed was the Municipal Commercial Centre in Rafah, which contained a shopping mall, a medical clinic and offices, and provided livelihoods for hundreds of families, the Amnesty International report said.

Residents of the buildings about to be destroyed were warned to leave by the Israeli military, but that they did not have time to salvage important belongings, it added.

Scores of people from nearby buildings were injured, and hundreds lost their homes, according to the rights group.

Israeli authorities had said that one building housed a command centre of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, and that another had "facilities linked to Palestinian militants", according to the report.

However, Luther said the military still "had an obligation to choose means and methods of attack that would minimise harm to civilians and their property".

"The Israeli army have previously conducted air strikes on specific apartments in high-rise buildings without their complete destruction," he added.

The rights group said it had sent its findings about the air strikes to Israeli authorities with questions about why each attack was carried out, but had not received an adequate response.

The report called for Amnesty International and other rights groups to be allowed access to Gaza and for the UN inquiry to be allowed "to conduct its investigation without hindrance".

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