Amnesty International head calls for human rights monitors in Mideast

By The Associated Press

Haaretz

Kislev 19, 5767

International monitors should be deployed in the Palestinian areas and Israel to document and investigate human rights violations, the head of Amnesty International said Saturday, after a weeklong tour of the region.

"There have been so many incidents, abuses of human rights," said Irene Khan, the group's secretary general. "There have been no independent investigations into these incidents on the Israeli or Palestinian side. There needs to be an end to impunity."

Khan said the situation, particularly in the Palestinian territories, is becoming "very desperate" and that the world is not paying enough attention.

"There is a human rights crisis that will get much worse if it is not addressed," she said in a telephone interview from the Gaza Strip.

Khan said she is sending a letter to EU leaders on Sunday, to coincide with International Human Rights Day, ahead of next week's meeting of the European Council, with a call for action.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev had no immediate comment.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat welcomed the idea of monitors in the Palestinian areas, noting the weekly demonstration against the separation fence in the West Bank town of Bilin, where troops often clash with protesters.

"The presence of international human rights monitors will really strengthen the nonviolent movement and peaceful movement the Palestinians are leading against the wall," he said.

Khan said that during her tour, she was struck by the sense of despair and pessimism among Israelis and Palestinians. She urged both sides to take advantage of the fragile truce that began in Gaza two weeks ago, but has not been expanded to the West Bank.

On Saturday, she toured Beit Hanun, a Gaza town on the border with Israel, where last month 19 members of an extended family were killed by Israel Defense Forces artillery fire. Israel faulted a technical failure for the fatal shelling of a residential area.

However, Khan said she believes IDF troops have fired recklessly in civilian areas, not just in Beit Hanun, but also when aiming missiles at wanted militants moving in densely populated areas.

"These kinds of situations, in which the risk of civilian deaths is high, the [Israeli] government is taking it [the risk] knowingly," she said. "Even though they take precautions, for them this is war. They see these incidents as part of collateral damage. We believe there needs to be a rethinking of strategy, where there are such heavy civilian casualties."

Capt. Noa Meir, an IDF spokeswoman, defended the army's tactics, saying Palestinian militants routinely take cover in civilian areas.

"We target only terrorists. Unfortunately the terrorists choose to operate from within civilian areas. Therefore the responsibility for acting in these areas should fall on them," she said. She also accused Palestinian militants of "firing purposely and indiscriminately at Israeli civilians."

Israel pulled out of Gaza a year ago, but Palestinian militants continued firing rockets at Israeli border towns. In June, after IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was captured by militants linked to the ruling Hamas party, Israel carried out a series of military strikes in Gaza, killing more than 300 Palestinians, more than two-thirds of them militants.

Five Israelis have been killed during the Gaza offensive - three soldiers in Gaza and two civilians hit by rocket fire on Israel.

Earlier in the week, Khan visited the Israeli border town of Sderot, the primary target of rockets from Gaza.

"The people there are terrified as well," she said.

She also noted that dozens of Palestinians have been killed in factional
fighting in the past year.