Friday, January 09, 2009

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Calls For Independent Investigation Into Possible War Crimes By Israeli Forces In Gaza

"The death toll in the shelling of a family compound in Gaza rose to 30, the United Nations said in a report issued on Friday, as relief workers continued to comb through wreckage they had been denied access to for days after the attack.

The episode has ignited intense international criticism of the Israeli military for its failure to allow relief workers to reach the scene in a timely manner. On Friday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, also pointed to the deaths in the family compound as cause for an independent investigation into possible war crimes by Israeli forces in Gaza.

"Incidents such as this must be investigated because they display elements of what could constitute war crimes," she told Reuters.

Initial reports on Monday said 11 members of the extended Samouni family had been killed and 26 wounded, according to witnesses and hospital officials, with five children aged 4 and under among the dead....

“There was no water, no bread, nothing to eat,” in the days after the shelling, 13-year-old Ahmed Ibrahim Samouni, whose mother was among those killed, told Reuters. “I got up on my own. I had my wound tied and I got up to get them water from outside, trying to hide from tanks and planes. I went to our neighbors and called on them until I almost fainted. I brought a gallon of water.”

Members of the Samouni family said that they were rounded up late Sunday night by Israeli soldiers and ordered to gather for their own safety in a single dwelling in the impoverished Zeitoun district of Gaza city, a Hamas stronghold. The next morning, they said, the building was shelled.

In its report on Friday, the United Nations agency confirmed the family’s account, saying that 110 people had been forced into the house on Sunday. “The next day the house was shelled,” Allegra Pacheco, an agency spokeswoman, told BBC television, quoting unidentified witnesses.

Only on Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement on Thursday, did Israel give Red Cross representatives permission to enter Zeitoun, and what the operatives found there chilled them. Four small children in the Samouni household, so weak they could not stand unassisted, cowered next to the corpses of slain mothers, the Red Cross said on Thursday. At least 12 corpses lay on mattresses and three more bodies were found in another house.

Surviving family members said they were sure more people remained buried under the rubble without food or water, and were in danger of dying. Members of B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, told the Washington Post that soldiers with the Israeli Defense Forces were in the neighborhood and aware of the citizens’ misery." ...

Alan Cowell "30 Confirmed Dead in Shelling of Gaza Family" New York Times January 9, 2009


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