UN must urgently investigate war crimes in Israeli-Gaza conflict – Amnesty Intl

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Amnesty International (AI) has urged the UN to urgently mandate an independent international investigation into Israeli airstrikes on Gaza as well as Palestine’s indiscriminate shelling of Israel, and hold accountable those responsible for war crimes.

The UN questions the legality of Israel’s Gaza offensive, while Netanyahu is dismissive of international pressure

Despite claims by Israel that its operation “Protective Edge”, launched June 8, targets Hamas militants, most of more than a hundred Palestinians killed in airstrikes on Gaza are civilians, Amnesty says, adding that at least 24 children and 16 women were among the casualties.

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Simultaneously, at least 20 people in Israel have been wounded by rocket attacks from Palestinian territories, according to the human rights watchdog, calling on the UN to set up a “fact-finding mission to Gaza and Israel to investigate violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict.”

“Swift UN action is needed as lives hang in the balance,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International. “The international community must not repeat previous mistakes, standing by and watching the devastating consequences for civilians of both sides.”

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Amnesty sees arms embargo on Israel and all Palestinian military groups as a means of preventing the violence escalating further.

“Pending such an embargo, all states must immediately suspend all transfers of military equipment, assistance and munitions to the parties, which have failed to properly investigate violations committed in previous conflicts, or bring those responsible to justice,” Amnesty’s official statement reads.

Strikes on homes, performed as part of Israel’s military operation, are a matter of particular concern to human rights groups. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on Friday questioned the legality of such attacks.

Israel has argued that all targets in the Gaza strip are either military facilities or are homes of Hamas militants.

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“In case of doubt, buildings ordinarily used for civilian purposes, such as homes, are presumed not to be legitimate military targets,” Libi Vice, spokeswoman for the Israel Defense Forces (IFD) told RT on Thursday.

Human rights watchdogs want proof that 340 housing units, destroyed in Gaza, were actually used for military purposes.

“Unless the Israeli authorities can provide specific information to show how a home is being used to make an effective contribution to military actions, deliberately attacking civilian homes constitutes a war crime and also amounts to collective punishment against the families,” said Amnesty’s Luther.

“Firing indiscriminate rockets, which cannot be aimed accurately at military targets, is a war crime, as is deliberately targeting civilians,” he added. “There can be no excuse for either side failing to protect civilians, including journalists, medics and humanitarian workers, or civilian facilities.”

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Amnesty International has also called on Israel and Egypt to “ensure that sufficient amounts of medical and humanitarian supplies are allowed into Gaza”. Healthcare services in the region have been on the brink of collapse due to shortages of supplies, the World Health Organization earlier warned.

Friday saw thousands of activists in London and Oslo protesting against Israeli strikes in Gaza. Organizers of the massive rallies said Palestinians are facing “a horrific escalation of racism and violence” at the hands of the IDF.

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UN questions legality of Israel’s Gaza offensive, Netanyahu dismisses intl pressure

The legality of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, which entered its fifth day on Saturday, has been questioned by the UN’s humanitarian chief. But Israel’s prime minister has said that no international pressure will stop the offensive.

Under international law, Israel must make sure its attacks are proportional, avoid civilian deaths, and identify military versus civilian objects on the ground, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Friday.

“We have received deeply disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes. Such reports raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” Pillay said in a statement.

The Palestinian death toll rose to at least 106 people early Saturday, as Israel continued its airstrikes for the fourth consecutive day, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. At least 75 of those killed are civilians, including 23 children, Reuters quoted medical officials in Gaza as saying.

Meanwhile, there haven’t been any casualties in Israel, with only nine civilians injured, Pillay’s office said, citing media reports. Earlier, Israeli officials reported that two soldiers had been wounded.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay (AFP Photo / Fadel Senna)

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay (AFP Photo / Fadel Senna)

Israel says that Operation Protective Edge does not target Gaza civilians. “This is not an operation in any capacity against the people of Gaza. This is an operation against Hamas, against an organization that purposefully and specifically uses the civilian population of Gaza as human shields,” Libi Vice, spokeswoman for the Israel Defense Forces (IFD) told RT on Thursday.

“We made unbounded efforts to protect the civilian population in the Gaza Strip before any attack against Hamas. We take measures that no other military or no other country takes in the world, which include text messages to people in civil areas, phone calls to their homes.”

According to Pillay, airstrikes that target the homes of civilians violate international law unless the homes are used as military bases – a stipulation that Vice says Israel is fully abiding by.

“In case of doubt, buildings ordinarily used for civilian purposes, such as homes, are presumed not to be legitimate military targets. Even where a home is identified as being used for military purposes, any attack must be proportionate, offer a definite military advantage in the prevailing circumstances at the time, and precautions must be taken,” Vice said.

The spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) described the destruction in Gaza: “More than 340 housing units in Gaza have been severely damaged or completely destroyed. As a result, more than 2,000 people have been displaced.”

Read more: Gaza healthcare services on brink of collapse as death toll climbs

A Palestinian woman is brought into an hospital on a stretcher after she was injured in an Israeli air strike on July 11, 2014 in Gaza City. (AFP Photo / Mohammed Abed)

A Palestinian woman is brought into an hospital on a stretcher after she was injured in an Israeli air strike on July 11, 2014 in Gaza City. (AFP Photo / Mohammed Abed)

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Israel defiant in face of international concerns

Israel made clear on Friday that it would not be bowing to international pressure, instead continuing its airstrikes and ignoring US President Barack Obama’s offer to help negotiate a ceasefire.

“No international pressure will prevent us from acting with all power,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters in Tel Aviv.

Israel’s operation “will continue until we are certain that quiet returns to Israeli citizens,” Netanyahu said. Israel has so far targeted more than 1,000 objects in Gaza and there are “more to go.”

Netanyahu also did not rule out a ground attack on Gaza, stating: “We are weighing all possibilities and preparing for all possibilities.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during a press conference at the defense ministry in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on July 11, 2014. (AFP Photo / Gali Tibbon)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during a press conference at the defense ministry in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on July 11, 2014. (AFP Photo / Gali Tibbon)

Israel’s military commander, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, added that the national army is ready to expand the operation. “We are in the midst of an assault and we are prepared to expand it as much as is required, to wherever is required, with whatever force will be required and for as long as will be required,” Gantz told reporters on Friday.

On Thursday, US President Barack Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington is willing to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the White House said.

“The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement,” said the statement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Netanyahu to end the bloodshed immediately in a telephone conversation on Thursday, expressing concern over civilian casualties. UN chief Ban Ki-moon also called for an immediate ceasefire at an emergency meeting of the Security Council.

French President Francois Hollande has also expressed concern over the worsening crisis in Israel and Gaza, and called for an end to the violence.

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Kurds seize two Iraqi oilfields and pull out of country’s unity government

Baghdad’s national oil ministry has slammed the Kurdish takeover, as Arab workers were replaced with Kurdish employees at sites in Bai Hassan and Kirkuk, saying there would be serious repercussions if they didn’t immediately withdraw, reported Reuters.

“We appeal to rational Kurds about the need to understand the danger of such [an] attitude and to ask the people responsible for this disorderly behavior to withdraw immediately from these sites in order to avoid dire consequences,” a ministry spokesman said, as reported by France 24.

The production capacity of the facilities is approximately 450,000 barrels a day. However, this has been significantly reduced since March when Baghdad’s Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline was sabotaged.

Hellfire in Iraq opportunity for Kurdish oil players

The oil field seizure has exacerbated existing problems between the Kurds and the Shiite led central government. Kurdish politicians pulled out of their roles in Maliki’s government after the PM accused them of harboring terrorists in the Kurdish capital of Arbil.

Iraqi Kurdish forces (AFP Photo / Karim Sahib)

Iraqi Kurdish forces (AFP Photo / Karim Sahib)

Maliki said that Kurds were letting their capital be used as an Islamic State base and members of Saddam Hussein’s now-banned Baath Party.

“Those who host them will lose,” Maliki said on Wednesday in his weekly televised address. “We will not stop until we have retaken all the areas that were taken from us.”

Kurdish Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told Reuters on Friday that the unity of the country is now at stake. “The country is now divided literally into three states: “Kurdish, a black state (ISIL) and Baghdad,” he said.

If Iraqi leaders didn’t rise to the challenge of successfully and quickly building a federal Iraq, “the consequences are very dire: complete fragmentation and failure.”

The oil field seizure and the withdrawal of Kurdish politicians from government falls a month after armed Kurdish forces known as the peshmerga took control of Kirkuk, when Iraqi armed forces withdrew following the predominantly Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) assault on the city.

Kurds have since resolved to hold a referendum on independence, with Regional Kurdish President Massoud Barzani telling his parliament in Arbil to prepare one, a development that displeases Maliki.

Israeli PM Netanyahu endorses Kurdish independence citing chaos in Iraq

On Friday, the country’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, also urged unity: “We have repeatedly called for the closing of ranks and for unity and to refrain from radical discourse,” Sistani said in a sermon which was delivered by one of his advisers.

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Russia’s Foreign Ministry urges US ‘to stop harassing kidnapped Russian MP’s son’

The Russian Foreign Ministry is urging the US to stop harassing Russian MP’s son, Roman Seleznyov, who is now being held in Guam on cyber-fraud charges, and calls for the “observance of his rights,” including the “right to medical care.”

“We continue to demand Washington to immediately release Roman Seleznyov, who was forcibly flown out the Republic of Maldives to the US island of Guam on July 5,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday.

One of the biggest concerns raised by the ministry is the lack of medical attention for Seleznyov.

“Roman Seleznyov was seriously injured in a terrorist attack in 2011 [in Marrakech, Morocco],” and he is being denied necessary medicine. “As a result his health and even his life are in danger.”

Roman’s father, prominent Russian MP Valery Seleznyov, told a news conference on Friday that his son will die without his medicine.

“There are no medical services there at all, treatment is not available,” Seleznyov said. “He will die.”

Don Hall, a US Marshals Service spokesman in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, said Guam authorities have staff to handle medical issues, AP reported. “The U.S. Marshals Service is adamant about ensuring that detainees receive all necessary medical care and prescribed medication,” he said.

The ministry said new “shocking” details came to light about Seleznyov’s kidnapping, after a telephone conversation with the arrested Russian citizen.

Seleznyov, 30, was detained earlier this week at Male international airport, as he was about to board a flight to Moscow.

As Seleznyov was going through airport security, he was approached and escorted to another room for further verification, the ministry’s statement said. Three US intelligence officers immediately confronted him, arrested him roughly, handcuffed him and spirited him away on a private plane.

“No legal procedures involving local authorities required for extradition were observed,” the ministry stated.

“The Russian citizen was literally kidnapped, which is a flagrant violation of the laws of any civilized state as well as international law,” the ministry said.

Earlier this week, the Russian ministry slammed his detention as “a de-facto kidnapping.”

Moscow considers the kidnapping “a new hostile move by Washington,” and accused the US of ignoring proper procedure in dealing with foreign nationals suspected of crimes.

“The same happened to Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, who were forced to go to the US from third countries and convicted on dubious charges.”

The US Department of Justice and US Secret Service announced on Monday that Roman Seleznyov was indicted on charges including identity theft, bank fraud, illegally accessing information on protected computers and trafficking in unauthorized access devices.

He is charged with stealing and selling US citizens’ credit card data between 2009 and 2011 and may face up to 30 years in prison if found guilty.

Seleznyov appeared in court on Monday, and will be held in custody until his next hearing.