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Friday, March 6, 2009

Arab League probes Israel for 'war crimes' committed in Gaza

By Amira Hass Amira Hass, Haaretz Correspondent

A committee of jurists hired by the Arab League completed a six-day tour of the Gaza Strip on Friday. The fact-finding mission was meant to investigate alleged war crimes as well as crimes against humanity perpetrated by Israel during its offensive against Hamas earlier this year.

Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa appointed the committee which is expected to submit a detailed report on its findings and conclusions. This report will then serve as the basis for any future legal proceedings the league plans to initiate.

The panel consists of six experts specializing in international law and international humanitarian law. At the outset of the mission, the delegation said its task was "to gather information on the responsibility of the state and the responsibility of individuals, according to international law, for every violation of international human rights laws and international humanitarian laws, including crimes against humanity and war crimes."

The delegation visited areas which were targeted by the Israel Defense Forces. The lawyers also met with residents who managed to avoid harm but whose family members were killed during the operation. Among those who gave statements to the committee were wounded Palestinians and eyewitnesses to various attacks, doctors, a German expert on armaments, and representatives of Palestinian and international non-governmental organizations.

The panel also met with Hamas officials and other Palestinian representatives. The head of the delegation, Professor John Dugard, who once served as a special United Nations envoy investigating human rights in the territories, said that his team sent two letters to Israeli authorities and that he was hopeful for a reply to questions it posed.

Members of the delegation also investigated the circumstances in which armed Palestinians launched rockets into Israel. Dugard told Haaretz that one of the questions raised during the trip was the proportionality of the IDF response to the rocket fire. Dugard said it was impossible to accurate gauge the matter without investigating the Palestinian side.

Dugard is being assisted by criminal attorney Gonzalo Boye, a native of Chile who currently resides in Spain. Boye was involved in filing a complaint against six senior Israeli officials, among them former defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter, over their role in the deaths of 14 Palestinian civilians killed in the attack on senior Hamas operative Salah Shahadeh in July 2002.

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