Israel prepares to respond to possible war crimes charges after its soldiers admitted to having used chemical weapons against Gazans.
Israeli government sources revealed on Friday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had tasked an inter-ministerial team to clear Tel Aviv of possible war crimes charges relating to its three-week-long assault on Gaza. Israeli Justice Minister Daniel Friedman will spearhead the efforts to coordinate a legal defense for civilians and the military amid world condemnation of Tel Aviv’s war on Gaza.
Israel moved close to being prosecuted for war crimes after Norwegian medical personel found traces of depleted uranium in Gaza victims, suggesting that Israel used the illegal weapons in its war on the densely-populated territory. The UN nuclear watchdog said on Wednesday that it would open an investigation into Israel’s alleged use of depleted uranium weapons, which are listed as ‘illegal weapons of mass destruction’ in the Geneva Convention.
The case for Israeli war crimes became stronger on Thursday when the Israeli military admitted that it pounded the Palestinian coast with at least twenty phosphorus bombs during the offensive. White phosphorus, classified as a ‘chemical weapon’ by the US intelligence, is a highly-incendiary substance that bursts into all-consuming flames that cannot be extinguished with water, burning flesh to the bone and often leading to death. Under the Geneva Treaty of 1980, the use of white phosphorous as a weapon is prohibited.
Human rights group Amnesty International has also touched on the issue, saying that Tel Aviv used white phosphorus munitions “indiscriminately and illegally” in overcrowded areas of Gaza. “The repeated use [of White Phosphorus] in this manner, despite evidence of its indiscriminate effects and its toll on civilians, is a war crime,” said Donatella Rovera of the Amnesty International. Eight Israeli human rights groups have also called for an investigation into the offensive — which has left some 1,340 people dead and thousands of others hospitalized.
UN special rapporteur for the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, meanwhile, said Thursday that there is more than enough evidence that Israel committed war crimes in the strip. According to Falk, the crimes committed in Gaza are clearly reminiscent of “the worst kind of international memories of the Warsaw Ghetto”, which included the starvation and murder of Polish Jews by Nazi Germany in World War II.
Israel launched its Operation Cast Lead on December 27 to allegedly defend its territories from Hamas rockets, which were fired in retaliation for Israel’s defiance of a ceasefire that had previously been in place. The UN Charter and international law, however, does not give Israel the legal foundation for claiming self-defense in the case of the Gazans.