UNITED NATIONS – A U.N. investigation concluded Tuesday that both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, raising the prospect that officials may seek prosecution in the International Criminal Court.
The probe led by former South African judge Richard Goldstone concluded that “Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity,” during its Dec. 27-Jan. 18 military operations against Palestinian rocket squads in the Gaza Strip.
In a 575-page report, Goldstone and three other investigators also found evidence “that Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity.”
Goldstone said the probe, which included interviews as well as a review of documents, photos and 30 videos, was completed Tuesday morning, just hours before the hastily called news conference.
“There should be no impunity for international crimes that are committed,” said Goldstone, a veteran war crimes investigator who has served as chief prosecutor for the U.N. criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. “It’s very important that justice should be done.”
The report said that Israel’s attacks in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, including the shelling of a house where soldiers had forced Palestinian civilians to assemble, amounted to war crimes.
It found seven incidents in which civilians were shot while leaving their homes trying to run for safety, waving white flags and sometimes following Israeli instructions, as well as the targeting of a mosque at prayer time, killing 15 people, were also war crimes.
A “direct and intentional attack” on the Al Quds Hospital and an adjacent ambulance depot in Gaza City “may constitute war crimes,” the report said.
Several Palestinians told the mission they were used as human shields by the Israeli forces, the report said, noting the case of Majdi Abd Rabbo, a 39-year-old intelligence officer of the Palestinian authority who was forced to walk ahead of the troops as they searched his and his neighbor’s house.
On the Palestinian side, the report found that armed groups firing rockets into southern Israel from Gaza failed to distinguish between military targets and the civilian population.
“Where there is no intended military target and the rockets and mortars are launched into civilian areas, they constitute a deliberate attack against the civilian population,” the report said. “These actions would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity.”
The investigators have recommended that the Security Council require both sides to launch their own, credible investigation into the conflict within three months, and to follow that up with action in their courts. If either side refuses, the investigators recommend that the Security Council refer the evidence for prosecution by the International Criminal Court, the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal, within six months.