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Israel Braces for Gazan War Claims
[Analysis] International prosecution for war crimes is unlikely
Yehonathan Tommer (tommery06)     Print Article 
Published 2009-01-15 13:00 (KST)   
The government of Israel is unlikely to be charged with war crimes in any international court or tribunal or United Nations forum. But it could face claims for civil damages to property and life from individual governments. Senior Israeli military officers who participated in the war in Gaza also may be publicly harassed and even liable to criminal prosecution when visiting certain countries.

Dr. Ronnie Sabel, a former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry said on Israel Radio Wednesday that Israel cannot be prosecuted for war crimes in the International Criminal Court at the Hague. Its government has signed but not ratified the Tribunal's charter. Hamas is a terrorist organization and cannot charge Israel with state crimes before the Tribunal.

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Any resolution submitted to the United National Security Council accusing Israel of war crimes in Gaza would most likely be vetoed by the United States, while similar resolutions adopted by various agencies of the United Nations General Assembly cannot be legally enforced, Dr. Sabel said.

The Swedish government has indicated its intention to sue Israel for damages and such claims by Sweden and other countries would be handled in post-war civil procedures between the appropriate government agencies.

Earlier in the week Israeli media reported that the Attorney General Emanuel Mazuz anticipates an international wave of war crimes charges. "I expect that after the fighting ends, the State Prosecutor's office will have to deal intensively with very specific claims arising from the military events."

The same legal questions raised during the Gazan operation had arisen during the Second Lebanon War, Mazuz said. Consequently, the government issued clear general guidelines to the military echelon, applicable to the Gazan fighting, regarding targeted killings, prevention of injury to civilians and gunfire toward sources of enemy fire.

Mazuz said that Israel had not committed war crimes in Gaza. "The military prosecutor's office had approved every operational target but the final decision in real time rests with the military."

The prosecutor's office has been gathering film footage documenting the hit targets and their impact on the civilian population for state evidence in future litigations, Sabel said.

More than 1,000 trucks bearing hundreds of tons of international humanitarian aid in foodstuffs, medicines and fuel during the offensive also was evidence (though victims will find hard to accept) of Israel's non-belligerent intentions toward Palestinian civilians, he said.

Peter Herby, head of the mines-arms unit of the International Red Cross confirmed that Israel fired white phosphorous shells to illuminate targets during night offensives or to create smoke screens for day attacks.

"There was nothing illegal in their use," he said, but urged the Israelis "to exercise extreme caution," the Associated Press reported. Phosphorous is not considered a chemical weapon.

Human rights organizations have accused Israel of illegally using the incendiary agent which causes severe and painful skin burns when in contact with oxygen. At least 10 Palestinian burn victims were hospitalized with skin peeling off their faces and bodies.

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Should Israel implement a cease-fire in Gaza?  (2009-01-02 ~ 2009-01-26)
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©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Yehonathan Tommer

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