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Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Israel accused of using 'human shields'
Israeli troops patrol Jenin with sniffer dog
Israelis in the West Bank fear ambush at every step
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By Sebastian Usher
BBC Middle East analyst

A leading human rights group has accused the Israeli army of routinely using Palestinian civilians as human shields.

Human Rights Watch said the tactic could be considered a war crime.

Human Rights Watch
Founded in 1978 and based in the US with permanent offices in Europe and Asia
Investigates human rights abuses globally, from Chechnya to Indonesia
Funded by private contributions only

Israel has rejected the accusations.

In a 24-page report, based on the testimony of more than 50 witnesses, Human Rights Watch documents how Israeli soldiers have forced Palestinians at gunpoint to open suspicious packages, knock on suspects' doors and search the houses of Palestinians wanted by Israel.

The report concentrates on four separate raids between late last year and the first months of this year.

But it says the practice has continued in the current Israeli offensive.

'Targets for retribution'

In two of the raids it investigated, Human Rights Watch says Israeli soldiers used children under the age of 18 to approach the houses of suspects.

In another raid, the group says a Palestinian was shot in the leg after failing to lead Israeli soldiers to his brother, a suspected militant.

The organisation says that in addition to exposing those Palestinians they used as human shields to the risk of being caught in crossfire, the tactic also put their lives in danger by identifying them as informers, leaving them targets for possible retribution.

Israel defends its raids in the Palestinian territories as a means of stopping suicide bomb attacks.

The Israeli army has dismissed the new report as preposterous, saying it has never used Palestinians as human shields.

But Human Rights Watch says the Israeli denial is inadequate, noting that its repeated requests for the Israeli army to give its testimony for the report have been turned down.

See also:

17 Apr 02 | Middle East
Analysis: 'War crimes' on West Bank
16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Eyewitness: Inside ruined Jenin
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