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Red Cross and Amnesty say attack violated Geneva accords
Chris McGreal in Jerusalem and Brian Whitaker
Tuesday April 23, 2002
International Committee of the Red Cross yesterday accused Israel of
breaching the Geneva conventions by recklessly endangering civilian
lives and property during its assault on the Jenin refugee camp, and by
refusing the injured access to medical personnel for six days.
Amnesty International concurred and called for an investigation on the same basis as the war crimes inquiries in the Balkans.
The allegations came as the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, named a fact-finding team to look into the 10 days of fighting in Jenin between the Israeli military and Palestinian militants. It will be led by the former Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari, who will be joined by Sadako Ogata, former UN high commissioner for refugees, and Cornelio Sommaruga, the ICRC's former head.
The Palestinians claim that the Israeli military massacred up to 500 people in the camp. Israel says about 40 people died, plus 23 of its troops.
The killing continued in other parts of the occupied territories yesterday as Israeli soldiers shot dead five Palestinians - two in Gaza and three in West Bank villages - and Palestinian militants in Ramallah shot three alleged collaborators with Israel, killing one man. The Israeli army said it arrested a 17-year-old Palestinian woman in Gaza who was on her way to carry out a suicide attack.
Last night a Palestinian militia leader and a second man were killed in a helicopter attack in Hebron. The helicopter fired missiles at a car, killing Marwan Zalloum, the commander of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade militia in the city, residents said. Palestinian security officials said he was on a list of 33 activists the Israelis asked the Palestinians to arrest several months ago.
In Bethlehem, heavy gunfire erupted yesterday around the Church of the Nativity, where Israeli troops have been besieging Palestinian gunmen holed up inside in a 20-day standoff, witnesses said. A Palestinian policeman inside the compound told Reuters by telephone: "They're shooting around us from all directions."
In Ramallah, the US undersecretary of state, William Burns, met Yasser Arafat for two hours yesterday, but there was no sign of an imminent end to the Israeli siege of the Palestinian leader's offices.
Rene Kosirnik, the head of the ICRC delegation in the region, said there was little doubt that Israel had breached interna tional law at the Jenin camp.
"When we are confronted with the extent of destruction in an area of civilian concentration, it is difficult to accept that international humanitarian law has been fully respected," he said. "What the law says is that you cannot attack or destroy civilians or civilian property. If you are in a military operation you have to take utmost care. If you suspect that your operation will cause disproportionate damage to civilians or civilian property then you have to stop the operation."
Mr Kosirnik said the Israelis also blocked emergency medical aid to the camp for nearly a week after the fighting end ed, while failing to provide care to the wounded.
"We were there for six days offering our services and we were refused," he said. "As long as Jenin refugee camp was occupied by the Israeli defence force, the first responsibility lies with the IDF to save lives. It is the responsibility of the force concerned to deliver services, to care for friend and foe. That is the rule."
He said the ICRC had two days ago asked the Israelis for equipment to search for survivors and recover the dead, but was awaiting a response. A team of British experts arrived on Sunday with equipment able to detect life in the rubble.
An Israeli army spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Olivier Rafowicz, accused the ICRC of pro-Palestinian bias. "The camp became a camp of terrorists," he said. "Civilians are killed when they are used by terrorists as a human shield."
But Amnesty International in London backed the ICRC's allegations.
"There is sufficient evidence to indicate that there have been serious violations of international law," Dr Kathleen Cavanaugh, a member of Amnesty's investigating team, said. "The question of whether this constitutes war crimes ... is what we want to ascertain."
Amnesty alleges that the Israelis gave civilians in the camp no opportunity to flee, and prevented the severely injured from being rescued.
Professor Derrick Pounder, forensic pathologist at Dundee University, who visited Jenin hospital, near the camp, for Amnesty, was struck by the absence of severely injured people. Normally the severely injured would outnumber the dead by three to one, he said.
"The question to the Israeli army is: where are the severely injured?" he said. "No seriously injured persons arrived at the hospital. We draw the conclusion that they were allowed to die where they were."