News & Current Affairs

July 15, 2009

Israel soldiers speak out on Gaza

Israel soldiers speak out on Gaza

Israeli soldiers deployed on the Israel-Gaza border 28 Decmeber 2008

Soldier testimonies appear to contradict official Israeli statements

A group of soldiers who took part in Israel’s assault in Gaza say widespread abuses were committed against civilians under “permissive” rules of engagement.

The troops said they had been urged to fire on any building or person that seemed suspicious and said Palestinians were sometimes used as human shields.

Breaking the Silence, a campaign group made up of Israeli soldiers, gathered anonymous accounts from 26 soldiers.

Israel denies breaking the laws of war and dismissed the report as hearsay.

The report says testimonies show “the massive and unprecedented blow to the infrastructure and civilians” was a result of Israeli military policy, articulated by the rules of engagement, and encouraged by a belief “the reality of war requires them to shoot and not to ask questions”.

One soldier is quoted saying: “The soldiers were made to understand that their lives were the most important, and that there was no way our soldiers would get killed for the sake of leaving civilians the benefit of the doubt.”

Paul Wood
From Paul Wood,Courtesy
BBC Middle East correspondent:

Until now, Israel always had a ready answer to allegations of war crimes in Gaza. Claims were, they said, Palestinian propaganda. Now the accusations of abuse are being made by Israeli soldiers.

The common thread in the testimonies is that orders were given to prevent Israeli casualties whatever the cost in Palestinian lives.

The Israeli military says past allegations of wrong-doing in Gaza were the result of soldiers recycling rumours.

But Breaking the Silence has a long – and to many, credible – record in getting soldiers to talk about experiences which might not reflect well on the army.

Another says: “People were not instructed to shoot at everyone they see, but they were told that from a certain distance when they approach a house, no matter who it is – even an old woman – take them down.”

Many of the testimonies are in line with claims made by human rights organisations that Israeli military action in Gaza was indiscriminate and disproportionate.

Amnesty International has accused both Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group in charge in Gaza, of committing war crimes during the 22-day conflict which ended on 18 January.

Israeli officials insist troops went to great lengths to protect civilians, that Hamas endangered non-combatants by firing from civilian areas and that homes and buildings were destroyed only when there was a specific military need to do so.

‘Ill discipline’

Other allegations in the testimonies of the 14 conscripts and 12 reserve soldiers include:

• Civilians were used as human shields, entering buildings ahead of soldiers

You can’t identify too much at night and anything that moves you engage in order not to take risks. It was not defined this way officially, but it was obvious
Anonymous Israeli soldier

• Large swathes of homes and buildings were demolished as a precaution or to secure clear lines of fire for the future.

• Some of the troops had a generally aggressive, ill-disciplined attitude

• There was incidents of vandalism of property of Palestinians

• Soldiers fired at water tanks because they were bored, at a time of severe water shortages for Gazans

• White phosphorus was used in civilian areas in a way some soldiers saw as gratuitous and reckless

• Many of the soldiers said there had been very little direct engagement with Palestinian militants.

The report says Israeli troops and the people who justify their actions are “slid[ing] together down the moral slippery slope”.

“This is an urgent call to Israeli society and its leaders to sober up and investigate anew the results of our actions,” Breaking the Silence says.

Israel said the purpose of Operation Cast Lead had been to end rocket fire from Gaza aimed at its southern towns.

Palestinian rights groups say about 1,400 Palestinians died during the operation. Thirteen Israelis died in the conflict, including 10 soldiers serving in Gaza.

According to the UN, the campaign damaged or destroyed more than 50,000 homes, 800 industrial properties, 200 schools, 39 mosques and two churches.

Investigations

Reacting to the report, Israeli military spokeswoman Lt Col Avital Leibovich said:

“The IDF [Israel Defence Forces] regrets the fact that another human rights organisation has come out with a report based on anonymous and general testimony – without investigating their credibility.”

She dismissed the document as “hearsay and word of mouth”.

“The IDF expects every soldier to turn to the appropriate authorities with any allegation,” Lt Col Leibovich added. “This is even more important where the harm is to non-combatants. The IDF has uncompromising ethical values which continue to guide us in every mission.”

There have been several investigations into the conduct of Israel’s operation in Gaza, and both Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that runs the territory, have faced accusations of war crimes.

An internal investigations by the Israeli military said troops fought lawfully, although errors did take place, such as the deaths of 21 people in a house that had been wrongly targeted.

A fact-finding team commissioned by the Arab League concluded there was enough evidence to prosecute the Israeli military for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that “the Israeli political leadership was also responsible for such crimes”.

It also said Palestinian militants were guilty of war crimes in their use of indiscriminate rocket attacks on civilians.

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December 30, 2008

Gaza air campaign ‘a first stage’

Gaza air campaign ‘a first stage’

Israel’s air assault on Gaza is “the first in several stages” of operations aimed at ending militant rocket fire, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said.

As bombing continued for a fourth day, another top official said Israel was ready for “long weeks of action”.

Palestinian officials say more than 360 people have been killed since Saturday. Four Israelis have died in rocket fire.

As EU officials prepared to discuss the crisis, some reports from Israel said it was considering a temporary truce.

Mr Olmert was set to discuss the idea of a 48-hour suspension, suggested by France, with his officials later in the day, the French news agency AFP said.

But Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer warned a truce would allow militant group Hamas – which controls Gaza – “to regain strength… and prepare an even stronger attack against Israel”.

US President Bush agreed in a telephone conversation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that for any ceasefire to be effective it had to respected by Hamas, the White House said.

A BBC reporter says Israeli tanks and troops are massed along Gaza’s border.

Correspondents say this could be a prelude to ground operations, but could also be intended to build pressure on Hamas.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana called for an immediate ceasefire and the opening of crossings to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, as EU foreign ministers prepared to discuss the crisis in Paris.

‘Defenseless population’

On Tuesday, Israeli jets attacked more targets linked to Hamas, hitting a number of government buildings and security installations.

At least 10 people were killed and 40 said to have been wounded in the raids.

One air strike killed two sisters, the eldest aged 11, riding in a donkey cart in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza, Palestinian medical sources said.

Palestinian children search the ruins of a destroyed house following an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip, 29 December 2008

The UN has called for an investigation into the attacks, which are causing heavy civilian casualties. It says at least 62 of the Palestinians killed so far were women and children.

Richard Falk – the UN special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories – said the international community must put more pressure on Israel to end its assault.

“Israel is committing a shocking series of atrocities by using modern weaponry against a defenceless population – attacking a population that has been enduring a severe blockade for many months,” Mr Falk said in a BBC interview.

But Israeli officials said there was more to come.

The Israeli military “has made preparations for long weeks of action”, deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai said.

Mr Olmert’s statement that the bombardment was “the first of several stages approved by the security cabinet” was quoted from a briefing he gave to President Shimon Peres on Tuesday.

Separately, Israeli naval vessels confronted pro-Palestinian activists seeking to break the Gaza blockade by boat. The activists said one vessel rammed them; their boat made port in Lebanon with heavy damage on one side.

Rocket fire

The Egyptian-Gaza border was due to be opened to permit more trucks carrying aid to enter the territory, and for wounded Palestinians to be transported to Egyptian hospitals.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, under popular pressure to open the crossing fully, said that could not happen while Hamas, rather than the Palestinian Authority, led by its rival Fatah, controlled the border.

Demonstrators in Yemen, angered by Egypt’s co-operation with the blockade on Gaza, briefly stormed the country’s consulate in Aden, where they burned an Egyptian flag and hoisted a Palestinian one.

There have been angry protests against the Israeli offensive in many other cities across the Arab world and in several European capitals.

Hamas has pressed on with rocket and mortar assaults, killing three Israeli civilians and a soldier in areas that have not previously suffered such fatalities.

Israeli military officials said rocket attacks landing more than 25 miles (40km) from Gaza put nearly 10% of Israel’s population of seven million within range.

Israeli political leaders have been under pressure to act against rocket fire with a general election looming in early February.

Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu has backed the offensive, telling the BBC that “Israel is using a fraction of its power to try to target surgically the terrorists”.

The strikes began less than a week after the expiry of a six-month-long ceasefire deal with Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007.

Correspondents say short of a full-scale invasion of Gaza, it is unlikely Israel will be able to prevent rocket fire permanently.

Israel dismantled its strategic settlements and military bases in Gaza in 2005 but has kept tight control over access in and out of the narrow coastal strip and its airspace.

GAZA VIOLENCE 27-30 DECEMBER
Map of attacks in and around Gaza

1. Ashdod: First attack so far north, Sunday. Woman killed in second rocket attack, Tuesday
2. Ashkelon: One man killed, several injured in rocket attack, Monday
3. Sderot: rocket attacks
4. Nevitot: One man killed, several injured in rocket attack, Saturday
5. Civilian family reported killed in attack on Yabna refugee camp, Sunday
6.
Israeli warplanes strike tunnels under Gaza/Egypt border, Sunday
7. Three brothers reported killed in attack on Rafah, Sunday
8. Khan Younis: Four members of Islamic Jihad and a child reported killed, Sunday. Security officer killed in air strike on Hamas police station, Tuesday
9. Deir al-Balah: Palestinians injured, houses and buildings destroyed, Sunday
10. Tel al-Hawa – Interior ministry and Islamic University badly damaged, Monday. At least three buildings in ministry compound hit, Tuesday
11. Gaza City port: naval vessels targeted, Sunday
12. Shati refugee camp: Home of Hamas leader Ismail Haniya targeted, Monday
13. Intelligence building attacked, Sunday
14. Jebaliya refugee camp: several people killed in attack on mosque, Sunday 15. Beit Hanoun – two girls killed in air strike, Tuesday
16. Israeli soldier killed at unspecified military base near Nahal Oz border crossing – five other soldiers wounded in same rocket attack, Monday night.

October 4, 2008

OJ Simpson convicted of robbery

OJ Simpson convicted of robbery

OJ Simpson has been found guilty on 12 charges of armed robbery, conspiracy to kidnap and assault with a deadly weapon by a court in the US city of Las Vegas.

The former US football star and actor was accused of robbing two sports memorabilia dealers a year ago.

The armed robbery charges carry a mandatory jail sentence, and kidnapping carries a possible life term.

Simpson, 61, who denied the charges, was acquitted of murder in 1995 in what was dubbed “the trial of the century”.

CHARGES AGAINST OJ SIMPSON
Conspiracy to commit a crime: guilty
Conspiracy to kidnap: guilty
Two counts of first degree kidnapping: guilty
Burglary in possession of a deadly weapon: guilty
Two counts of armed robbery: guilty
Two counts of assault with a deadly weapon: guilty
Two counts of coercion with use of a deadly weapon: guilty

The charges in the latest trial centred on an incident in the Palace Station hotel in Las Vegas in September 2007.

Simpson was accused – and convicted – of kidnapping two sports memorabilia dealers and holding them in the hotel.

The former National Football League running back seized the pair in an attempt to reclaim items in their possession related to his sporting career, which Simpson claimed still belonged to him.

Handcuffed

Asked by reporters on his way into court for the latest verdict, which was read late on Friday night local time, Simpson said he was prepared for the judgement.

“You gotta be ready,” the former Buffalo Bills star running back told journalists.

OJ Simpson in 2006

Inside the court both Simpson and his accomplice, Clarence Steward, were found guilty on all charges by the Las Vegas jury.

Simpson blew out his cheeks and nodded as the verdicts were read out.

He was then led away with his hands cuffed by police. He will be sentenced in December.

The judge refused to grant him bail pending sentencing.

In his previous trial, Simpson was accused of murdering his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in 1994.

The not-guilty verdict came 13 years to the day before his conviction in Las Vegas, and shocked many in America.

Mr Simpson was later found liable for the deaths in a civil case and ordered to pay $33.5m (£19m) to Mr Goldman’s family.

September 7, 2008

New charges for actor accused in stabbing

New charges for actor accused in stabbing

VISTA, California (AP) — Prosecutors have brought additional charges against a Hollywood actor accused of stabbing his ex-girlfriend 20 times.

Shelley Malil portrayed the character Haziz in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

Shelley Malil portrayed the character Haziz in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

Shelley Malil, 43, who played a supporting role in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” was charged Friday with residential burglary and assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly attacking a man who with Malil’s ex-girlfriend, Kendra Beebe, on August 10.

Prosecutors say that was the day Malil stabbed Beebe with two knives while chasing her in and around her San Marcos home as her two children slept.

A man who was with Beebe at the time grabbed one knife, but Malil found another and continued the attack until a neighbor disarmed him, prosecutors said.

Malil previously pleaded not guilty to one count of attempted murder with a special circumstance of premeditation and one count of personal use of a knife and inflicting great bodily injury. He faces life in prison if convicted.

During a Superior Court hearing Friday, a judge reduced his bail from $10 million to $3 million. Malil’s attorney, Steve Meiser, argued that the higher figure was unreasonable and that his Indian-born client was not a flight risk.

Malil has been jailed since August 11.

Beebe, 35, suffered deep wounds to her lungs and throat, but prosecutors said she was expected to recover.

Malil played a co-worker, Haziz, to comedian Steve Carell’s title character in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” He has appeared on dozens of TV shows, including “NYPD Blue” and “Scrubs.”

September 4, 2008

Pakistan fury over ‘US assault’

Pakistan fury over ‘US assault’

Pakistani soldier in South Waziristan

Tension in Pakistan’s north-west has increased in recent months

Pakistan has summoned the US ambassador to protest at an alleged cross-border raid which officials say killed at least 15 villagers in the north-west.

A number of civilians were reported killed in the raid, which Pakistan says was a violation of its sovereignty.

Correspondents say the raid appears to have been the first ever ground assault by foreign forces based in Afghanistan.

US-led and Nato forces said they had no reports of any such incursion. Border tensions have risen in recent weeks.

US aircraft have carried out air strikes in the region, but a ground assault would be unprecedented.

It is not clear who the target of any attack might have been.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Pakistan would not allow any foreign power to carry out attacks on its territory.

He was speaking hours after his motorcade was hit by sniper fire near the capital, Islamabad. Senior government officials say he was not in the car at the time.

‘Act of aggression’

Pakistani military and political officials say ground troops brought in by US-led coalition helicopters launched the attack in the South Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan border early on Wednesday morning.

Map

Locals say soldiers attacked with gunfire and bombs. Women and children were among those reported killed.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said a “very strong protest” had been delivered to the ambassador, Anne Paterson.

“The ambassador said that she would convey it to her government,” he said.

The army called the attack an act of aggression which undermined the fight against militancy.

North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani, who is in administrative charge of the tribal areas, called the attack “cowardly”.

“At least 20 innocent citizens of Pakistan, including women and children, were martyred,” he said in a statement.

There is mounting US pressure on Pakistan – a key ally in the “war on terror” – to crack down on militants, who use the border region to launch raids into Afghanistan.

The Afghan government and Nato say the border region is a haven for al-Qaeda and the Taleban. Pakistan says it is doing all it can to curb militancy.

On Monday, Pakistan’s military suspended its operations against Taleban militants in the neighboring Bajaur tribal area.

The government said this suspension of fighting was to respect the fasting month of Ramadan.

Taleban spokesman Maulvi Omar welcomed the announcement, but he said militants would not lay down their arms.

August 14, 2008

Philippine displaced begin return

Philippine displaced begin return

A family sit at an evacuation centre in Pikit town on 13 August 2008

Tens of thousands of families were forced to leave their homes

Troops defused a bomb at a bus station in the southern Philippines, as people displaced by fighting between troops and Muslim rebels began to return home.

About 160,000 villagers fled violence which began in early August, after a deal expanding a Muslim autonomous zone was blocked.

Separatist rebels then occupied several villages in North Cotabato province, triggering a military assault.

Operations ended a day ago, and troops are encouraging families to return.

“We expect a considerable number of people to return home today. Since late Wednesday they were slowly going back, we are assuring them of their safety,” an army spokesman, Lt-Col Julieto Ando, was quoted as saying.

But many people still feared for the lives and were reluctant to return, aid agencies said.

Early on Thursday, security personnel defused a bomb planted at a bus station at Kidapawan town in the center of the province.

A military spokesman said it was probably a retaliatory measure by the retreating rebels.

‘Tainted relationship’

A boy salvages belongings from the ashes of his home in Takepan, North Cotabato province, on Tuesday, after it was razed by retreating rebels

The violence began when a deal that would have expanded an existing Muslim autonomous zone in the south fell apart.

The agreement had angered many Christian communities, who appealed to the Supreme Court to block it pending further hearings.

Several hundred guerrillas from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) then occupied 15 villages in North Cotabato – next to the autonomous zone.

The action triggered military air strikes and artillery assaults. At least two soldiers and more than two dozen rebels were killed.

Some of the tens of thousands of families who fled the fighting are now beginning to make their way back.

map

“The security situation has improved but it will probably take a bit of time before people feel secure enough to return home en masse,” Stephen Anderson, country director for the World Food Programme (WFP), told Reuters news agency.

“We have to be looking ahead to people having to potentially rebuild their lives – a lot of houses, villages have been destroyed.”

One local resident, whose house was looted, told the French news agency AFP that ties between Muslim and Christian communities would have to be rebuilt.

“The relationship has been tainted but our brother Muslims agreed we can rebuild it for the sake of our children.”

MILF rebels have been fighting for greater autonomy in the southern Philippines for almost four decades.

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