Page last updated at 11:16 GMT, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Israel army 'used human shields'

Israeli shelling of Gaza
The offensive in Gaza meant operating in areas with large civilian populations

United Nations investigators have accused the Israeli army of using an 11-year-old boy as a human shield during its recent Gaza offensive.

Their report says troops ordered the boy to walk in front of them for several hours under fire, entering buildings and opening suspect packages.

The UN team responsible for protection of children in war zones says it found "hundreds" of similar violations.

Israel has denied the charges, saying morals are "paramount" in its army.

Israel's ambassador to the UN criticised the report as "unable or perhaps unwilling" to address attacks against its civilians by Palestinian militants.

The lead investigator, Sri Lankan lawyer Radhika Coomaraswamy, said the incident with the boy in the Gaza neighbourhood of Tel al-Hawa on 15 January was a violation of Israeli and international law.

The report... wilfully ignores and downplays the terrorist and other threats we face
Aharon Leshno Yaar
Israeli Ambassador

Her report also accuses Israeli soldiers of shooting Palestinian children, bulldozing a home with a woman and child still inside, and shelling a building they had ordered civilians into a day earlier.

She cited the case of one family where the father was ordered out of his home and shot. Soldiers then fired on the family inside, killing one child and wounding the mother and three children.

She added that her report contained "just a few examples of the hundreds of incidents" that had been verified by UN officials in the Gaza Strip.

Ethic standards

An Israeli military spokesman dismissed the UN findings as inaccurate and politically motivated.

"We are an army to which morals and high ethical standards are paramount," Capt Elie Isaacson said.

"The report claims to examine Israel's actions while it wilfully ignores and downplays the terrorist and other threats we face," Ambassador Aharon Leshno Yaar told the UN's 47-nation Human Rights Council.

Ms Coomaraswamy, who is the secretary-general's special envoy for protecting children in armed conflict, said the UN is also investigating claims the Palestinian militant group Hamas used human shields during the three-week Gaza conflict.

Israel's military last week ordered an inquiry after some soldiers admitted killing unarmed Palestinian civilians during the operation which ended on 18 January.

Medical authorities say more than 1,300 Palestinians died in the Israeli offensive. It is not known how many of them were combatants belonging to militant groups.

The dead including some 440 children, 110 women, and dozens of elderly people. Israel has blamed Hamas for using civilians as human shields, which Hamas has denied.

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