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Israel hiding war crimes
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RAMALLAH, West Bank: The Israeli military censor is preventing the media from identifying officers who took part in the 22-day war on Gaza and publishing information about them that may be used in legal proceedings against them when traveling overseas.

Israeli sources said that there is growing concern at the Defense Ministry and the Ministry of Justice that Israeli officers will be singled out in a massive wave of lawsuits over war crimes and human rights violations.

The new instructions from the military censor to the media were prepared in consultation with Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and his military counterpart Brig. Gen. Avihai Mandelblit. Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was also involved in the decisions.

There is particular concern at the Defense Ministry that interviews in the press by officers describing the destruction of homes in Gaza Strip or harm done to Palestinian civilians in areas where they commanded forces could become “self-incriminating” evidence in war crime cases likely to be filed by human rights groups. The sources said that an unofficial report was received two days ago on a suit allegedly brought in the Netherlands against the commander of one of the brigades, following the release of his identity to the media.

A number of rights organizations have begun preparing a list of officers involved in the fighting and where they fought in an effort to establish evidence that will allow legal proceedings to begin.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday constituted a special team, headed by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, to fend off war crimes charges against Israeli officers.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak will ask the government to approve tomorrow a bill “offering moral and legal backing to army officers and soldiers following Operation Cast Lead,” his ministry said.

In 2005, Doron Almog, former officer in charge of Southern Command, avoided arrest at London’s Heathrow Airport. He was warned not to disembark from his El Al flight as British detectives were waiting to arrest him for allegedly ordering the demolition of Palestinian homes in Gaza in 2002.

In 2006, then-Gaza Division commander Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who was scheduled to study at the Royal College of Defense Studies in London, was warned by an Israeli military judge that he could be arrested on arrival. Kochavi subsequently canceled his trip to the UK.

On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded that those responsible for bombing UN buildings in the Palestinian territory should be made accountable. Amnesty International said it was “undeniable” that Israel had used white phosphorus in crowded civilian areas, contrary to international law, charging that this amounted to a war crime.

Meanwhile, a Hamas delegation from Gaza crossed into Egypt yesterday for talks to shore up the cease-fire with Israel. A border official said the six-member delegation entered Egypt through the Rafah crossing and was on its way to Cairo, where talks are to take place tomorrow with intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

A Hamas spokesman in Gaza said the delegation would press for the swift opening of the aid-dependent territory’s borders to basic goods.

by Mohammed Mar’i

Source >  Arab News | Jan 24

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