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I have the honour to forward the letter dated 10 May 2009 addressed to you from Mr. Amre Moussa, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, regarding the situation in Gaza as a result of the Israeli attack which started on 27 December 2008 which led to the dire humanitarian situation in the Strip. Enclosed, please, find the final version of executive summary of the report prepared by the Independent Fact-Finding Committee on Gaza (the full report is available on the Arab League website (www.arableagueonline.org)) (see annex).
Pursuant to Article 54 of the Charter of the United Nations, I should be grateful if you would arrange for the present letter and its annex to be circulated as a document of the Security Council.
I am writing to you regarding the situation in Gaza as a result of the Israeli attack which started on 27 December 2008 and led to the dire humanitarian situation in the Strip.
There are numerous allegations of war crimes as well as severe violations of international humanitarian law committed during the Israeli aggressive operations.
Stemming from the need for credible assessments, the League of Arab States decided to send an Independent Fact-finding Committee of independent international experts to the Strip. The Committee was headed by Mr. John Dugard of South Africa, and was composed of the following members: Mr. Gonzalo Boye of Germany and Chile; Judge Finn Lynghjem of Norway; Professor Paul de Waart of the Netherlands; and Professor Francisco Corte-Real of Portugal, as the forensic body damage evaluator. Ms. Raelene Sharp of Australia served as the Rapporteur. The Committee visited Gaza during the period from 22 to 27 February 2009 and held meetings with a wide spectrum of personalities, including representatives of international organizations and non-governmental organizations, as well as victims affected by the armed conflict. Members of the Committee also visited a number of sites that were attacked in the Strip.
The final version of the executive summary of the report prepared by the Committee is enclosed herewith (see enclosure). The full report is available on the website of the Arab League (www.arableagueonline.org).
Independent Fact-Finding Committee
No Safe Place.
1. The Independent Fact-Finding Committee on Gaza to the League of Arab States (the Committee) was established in February 2009 with the tasks of investigating and reporting on violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law during the Israeli military offensive (hereinafter operation Cast Lead) against Gaza from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009 and collecting information on the responsibility for the commission of international crimes during the operation. The Committee comprised Professor John Dugard (South Africa: Chairman), Professor Paul de Waart (Netherlands), Judge Finn Lynghjem (Norway), Advocate Gonzalo Boye (Chile/Germany), Professor Francisco Corte-Real (Portugal; forensic body damage evaluator) and Ms Raelene Sharp, solicitor (Australia: Rapporteur).
2. The Committee held an initial meeting with the Secretary-General of the Arab League and his staff in Cairo on 21 February. It then travelled to Gaza on 22 February, which it entered at the Rafah crossing. The Committee was accompanied by three representatives of the League: Mr. Radwan bin Khadfa, Legal Advisor to the Secretary General and Head of the Legal Department, Mrs Aliya Ghussien, Head of Palestine Department, and Ms Elham Alshejni, from the Population Studies and Migration Department. The Committee was also accompanied by Mr Omar Abdallah from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry.
3. The Committee remained in Gaza from 22 to 27 February. The programme for its visit was organized by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, which provided logistical support to the Committee. The Committee met with a wide range of persons, including victims of operation Cast Lead, witnesses, members of the Hamas Authority, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, journalists and members of NGOs and United Nations agencies. It visited the sites of much of the destruction, including hospitals, schools, universities, mosques, factories, businesses, police stations, government buildings, United Nations premises, private homes and agriculture land.
4. The Committee collected a wealth of information from many sources, including the websites of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Israeli newspapers and NGO reports, the reports of Palestinian and international NGOs, United Nations publications, Palestinian official documents and the testimony of witnesses to the conflict. On three occasions, the Committee wrote to the Government of Israel requesting its co-operation. Such letters were faxed to the Government in Israel and later delivered to the Israeli embassies in the Netherlands and Norway. The Committee received no response to its requests for co-operation, which compelled it to rely on official websites, publications and the media for information about the Israeli perspective. The Committee regrets the decision of the Government of Israel to withheld co-operation.
5. The Committee's visit to and experiences in Gaza inevitably influenced and shaped its opinion and assisted it in making its findings. The Committee's impressions and the inferences that it drew from what it saw and heard were corroborated by information from other sources. However, it could not have carried out its mandate without the visit to Gaza which allowed it to see for itself the destruction and devastation caused by operation Cast Lead and to speak to those who had experienced and suffered through the offensive.
6. The Committee's report is divided into three main parts: a factual description and analysis; a legal assessment and possible remedies; and recommendations. The factual description includes a report by the body damage evaluator, who examined 10 individuals who sustained injuries during operation Cast Lead. Operating under internationally recognized standards, the report documents the injuries suffered and their alleged causes.
7. The Committee saw, heard and read evidence of great loss of life and injury in Gaza. Statistics accepted by the Committee show that over 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including at the very least 850 civilians, 300 children and 110 women. Over 5,000 Palestinians were wounded. The Committee was unable to accept the figures given by Israel, which claim that only 295 of those killed were civilians, as they do not provide the names of the dead (unlike Palestinian sources). Moreover, Israel includes policemen as combatants, whereas they should be considered as civilians, and it asserts that only children below the age of sixteen qualify as such, whereas the accepted international age for children is eighteen. The Committee heard disturbing accounts of cold-blooded killing of civilians by members of the IDF, accounts which were later confirmed by Israeli soldiers at the Oranim military college.
8. Four Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinian rockets during operation Cast Lead and 182 wounded. Ten Israeli soldiers were killed (three by friendly fire) and 148 wounded.
9. Palestinian fighters had only unsophisticated weapons -- Qassam rockets and Grads whereas Israel was able to deploy the most sophisticated and modern weaponry to bombard the population of Gaza from the air, land and sea. Although Israel initially denied it had used white phosphorous in the offensive it later admitted its use but denied it had been used unlawfully. The Committee is, however, satisfied on the available evidence that white phosphorous was used as an incendiary weapon in densely populated areas.
10. There was substantial destruction of, and damage to property during the offensive. Over 3,000 homes were destroyed and over 11,000 damaged; 215 factories and 700 private businesses were seriously damaged or destroyed; 15 hospitals and 43 primary health care centres were destroyed or damaged; 28 government buildings and 60 police stations were destroyed or damaged; 30 mosques were destroyed and 28 damaged; 10 schools were destroyed and 168 damaged; three universities / colleges were destroyed and 14 damaged; and 53 United Nations properties were damaged.
11. It was clear to the Committee the IDF had not distinguished between civilians and civilian objects and military targets. Both the loss of life and the damage to property were disproportionate to the harm suffered by Israel or any threatened harm. There was no evidence that any military advantage was served by the killing and wounding of civilians or the destruction of property.
12. The Committee received evidence of the bombing and shelling of hospitals and ambulances and of obstructions placed in the way of the evacuation of the wounded.
13. The 22-day offensive with bombing and shelling from the air, sea and land traumatized and terrorised the population. Israel dropped leaflets warning the population to evacuate, but in Most cases failed to give details of the areas to be targeted and conversely which areas were safe. Phone calls were equally confusing. Generally, the leaflets and phone calls simply served to confuse the population and to cause panic.
14. Israel has defended its actions by arguing that buildings were used to store munitions and hide militants and that the Palestinians made use of women and children as human shields. The Committee received evidence of human shields being used by both Hamas and Israel and has not been able to verify the truth of these allegations. Nevertheless it does not believe that such large scale killing and wounding can be attributed to the use of human shields. Similarly, Israel has produced no credible evidence of buildings being used to harbour munitions and militants. Again, it is likely that this did occur in some cases but it could not possible justify the type and amount of killing and wounding and damage to property that occurred.
15. The IDF conducted an internal investigation into allegations that its forces committed international crimes. It found that although there were a few irregularities international crimes were not committed by its forces. The Committee is unable to accept those findings. The Committee finds the IDF investigation to be unconvincing as it was not independent. There is also no suggestion that it considered Palestinian sources.
16. Before making its legal assessment, the Committee considered a number of issues that might affect criminal responsibility for any crimes that were committed. The Committee found that: