Amnesty Raps Palestinian Attacks on Israelis

Wed Jul 10, 8:20 PM ET
By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Amnesty International Thursday condemned Palestinian suicide attacks on Israeli civilians and urged the Palestinian Authority ( news - web sites) to prosecute those responsible.
 
Amnesty has accused the Israeli army of human-rights abuses against Palestinians fighting occupation. Israel has denied this, accusing Amnesty of having an anti-Israeli agenda and not doing enough to criticize suicide bombings. Amnesty took aim at Palestinian militants in its seventh report on the human-rights situation in the two territories since the September 2000 eruption of the Palestinian uprising for an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip ( news - web sites).

"(We) urge the Palestinian Authority to arrest and bring to justice those who order, plan or carry out attacks on civilians," said the report, presented at a news conference in Gaza City, a stronghold of militant groups.

The report said 350 Israeli civilians had been killed in attacks staged by Palestinian nationalist and Islamic groups over the past 21 months. Sixty of the Israeli dead were children, the youngest five months old.

At least 60 others were above age 60, the report added.

"Whatever the cause for which people are fighting, there can never be a justification ... under international law ... for direct attacks on civilians."

Abdel-Salam Sayed Ahmed, Middle East deputy director of the London-based rights group, said it contacted representatives of Palestinian militant factions before issuing the report.

"We told them that your right to resistance (against occupation) does not give you a passport to attack civilians and we asked them to stop and denounce such actions," he said.

MILITANTS REBUFF AMNESTY

Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas which has spearheaded a suicide bombing campaign against Israel since interim peace accords were signed in 1993, told Reuters that it rejected Amnesty's appeal.

"We reiterated our right to self-defense. This is not a war between two armies and should not be viewed as such."

"I believe the communique ... deliberately ignores the legitimate motives of our struggle," he said. "It is a communique with bias toward Israel."

The Palestinian Authority has repeatedly urged militant groups to stop blowing up civilians inside Israel, saying such attacks tarnish the image of Palestinians abroad and set back their cause for an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinian officials deny Israeli accusations that they have sponsored militant violence. They also say Palestinian security services have been so decimated by Israeli army incursions that they are incapable of reining in militants.

The Amnesty report said Palestinian militant groups offered a variety of reasons for targeting Israeli civilians -- from retaliating for the Israeli army's killing of Palestinian civilians to fighting an "occupying power."

At least 1,438 Palestinians and 548 Israelis have been killed since the uprising flared after peace talks froze.