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Wednesday, 1 November, 2000, 23:55 GMT
Israel 'may be guilty of war crimes'
Israeli soldier
Israel is accused of breaching its own rules and the Geneva Convention
Human rights group Amnesty International has condemned Israel's military tactics in the occupied territories, saying they could amount to war crimes.

Five weeks of Arab-Israeli violence have left some 160 people dead, many of them children, almost all of them Palestinian.

An Amnesty delegation which has just returned from the region said Israeli forces were no longer carrying out investigations into killings - as would have been automatic before the current troubles began.

If a kid is throwing stones at you but not posing any other risk, you don't shoot him

Amnesty research director Claudio Cordone
"There is a pattern of gross human rights violations that may well amount to war crimes," Amnesty's international research director and a member of the delegation, Claudio Cordone, told a news conference in London.

"There is excessive use of force resulting in killings that shouldn't take place.

"If a kid is throwing stones at you but not posing any other risk, you don't shoot him."

Geneva Conventions

Amnesty International also criticised the Palestinians for firing on Jewish settlements and said they had a duty to prevent children from putting their lives at risk.

Palestinian boy
Running for cover as bullets fly
And it condemned Palestinian officials for their slowness in investigating the mob killings of two Israeli reservists in the West Bank town of Ramallah last month.

But although the group comes down hard on both sides, the weight of its condemnation bears more heavily on Israel.

It says the Israeli forces are breaking their own rules as well as international standards laid down in the Geneva Conventions: namely, that lethal force must only be used to counter an immediate threat to life.

Israel has consistently said it uses whatever force is necessary to protect the lives of its soldiers and civilians.

'Short fuse'

Mr Cordone also repeated long-standing criticism of Israel's failure to use proper policing methods against rioters, including shields to deal with stones and petrol bombs without killing people.

"It tends to be children and others flinging stones, even Molotov cocktails, and the Israeli forces seem to have a pretty short fuse in their answer.

"They therefore tend to react with combat reflexes as opposed to what would be proper policing methods," he said.

One of only two cases Israel is looking into is that of 12-year-old Palestinian boy Rami al-Durra, who was shot dead in his father's arms in scenes broadcast around the world.

The Amnesty delegation is the group's second to visit the region since fighting broke out on 28 September.

The latest findings go much further than its earlier criticism that Israeli troops were using "excessive force" against Palestinians.

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See also:

01 Nov 00 | Middle East
Nine die in Mid-East clashes
02 Oct 00 | Middle East
Boy becomes Palestinian martyr
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