'IDF Troops Used 11-year-old Boy as Human Shield in Gaza'

UN report accuses IDF of committing human rights atrocities during Operation Cast Lead.

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Israel Defense Forces soldiers used an 11-year-old Palestinian boy as a human shield during the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, a group of UN human rights experts said Monday.

IDF troops ordered the boy to walk in front of soldiers being fired on in the Gaza neighborhood of Tel al-Hawa and enter buildings before them, said the UN secretary-general's envoy for protecting children in armed conflict.

Radhika Coomaraswamy said the incident on Jan. 15, after Israeli tanks had rolled into the neighborhood, was a violation of Israeli and international law.

It was included in a 43-page report published Monday, and was just one of many verified human rights atrocities during the three-week war between Israel and Hamas that ended Jan. 18, she said.

Coomaraswamy accused 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.

Israel's diplomatic mission in Geneva said it would respond to the allegations later Monday at a session of the UN Human Rights Council.

There also have been allegations that the militant group Hamas used human shields, but UN human rights experts have yet to verify those, said Coomaraswamy.

"Violations were reported on a daily basis, too numerous to list," said Coomaraswamy.

Coomaraswamy, who visited Gaza and Israel for five days in February, said her list constituted "just a few examples of the hundreds of incidents that have been documented and verified" by UN officials who were in the territory.

She was the only one of the nine UN experts who compiled the report that was allowed into Gaza following the war. The experts covered issues ranging from health and hunger to women's rights and arbitrary executions.

The experts also noted reports that Hamas had committed other abuses. They said Hamas had been unwilling to investigate the allegations.

The report called for Israel to end its blockade of the impoverished territory, where they said more than 90 percent of people are dependent on food aid; allow Palestinians to move between Gaza and the West Bank; and investigate human rights abuses that occurred during the conflict.

Coomaraswamy has been a UN undersecretary-general since April 2006. She formerly headed the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission and reported as a UN special investigator on violence against women.

Coomaraswamy's comments formed part of a much longer report from nine UN investigators including specialists on the right to health, to food, to adequate housing and education and on summary executions and violence against women.

All cited violations by Israel - and in some cases by the Hamas Islamic movement that controls Gaza - during the invasion from December 27 until January 17 which Israeli leaders say was launched to stop rocket attacks by Hamas from the territory.

Palestinian officials say 1,434 people in Gaza - 960 of them civilians - were killed in the fighting, a figure Israel contests. The report from the nine gave the total as 1,440, saying of these 431 were children and 114 women.

The overall report was criticized in the 47-nation Council by Israel's ambassador Aharon Leshno Yar, who said it "wilfully ignores and downplays the terrorist and other threats we face," and the use by Hamas of human shields.

Leshno Yar said the 43-page document was part of a pattern of "demonizing Israel" in the Council - where an informal bloc of Islamic and African nations usually backed by Russia, China and Cuba has a built-in majority.

Another report presented to the Council on Monday came from Robert Falk, a U.S. academic and the body's special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Falk, whom Israel barred from entry last year after accusing him of bias and prejudice, said Israel had subjected civilians in Gaza to "an inhuman form of warfare that kills, maims and inflicts mental harm."

His report, in which he called for an independent experts group to probe possible war crimes by Israel and Hamas and also suggested that the UN Security Council set up an ad hoc criminal tribunal, was issued late last week.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood was asked whether the U.S. supports Falk's call for an independent inquiry into possible war crimes in Gaza by both Israel and Hamas.

"We've expressed our concern many times about the special rapporteur's views on dealing with that question, and we've found the rapporteur's views to be anything but fair. We find them to be biased. We've made that very clear," said Wood.



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