Gaza: New evidence of misuse of weapons prompts fresh arms embargo call
Posted: 23 February 2009
· 'Metal cube' shrapnel weapon from drones condemned
Amnesty International today called for a UN arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups as it published a new report on the misuse of foreign-supplied weaponry during the recent Gaza conflict.
Both Israel and Hamas used weapons supplied from abroad to carry out attacks on civilians - thus committing war crimes - declared Amnesty's 38-page report, 'Fuelling conflict: foreign arms supplies to Israel/Gaza'.
As the fighting ended in Gaza last month, Amnesty researchers found fragments and components from munitions used by the Israeli army - including many that are US-made - littering school playgrounds, and in hospitals and people's homes. They comprised artillery and tank shells (including 'flechettes'), remnants from Hellfire and other airborne missiles and large F-16 delivered bombs, as well as still-smouldering, highly incendiary 'white phosphorus' remains from US-made shells.
They also found remnants of a new type of missile, seemingly launched from unmanned 'drones', which explodes large numbers of tiny sharp-edged metal cubes, each between 2mm and 4mm square in size. These lethal, purpose-made shrapnel had penetrated thick metal doors and were embedded deep in concrete walls. They are clearly designed to maximise injury.
Palestinian civilians killed by the metal cubes weapon, says Amnesty, include a 13-year-old girl asleep in bed, two young women on their way to a shelter in search of safety, a 13-year-old boy on his bicycle, eight secondary school students waiting for a school bus, and an entire family sitting in the courtyard of their home.
Last month Amnesty pointed to evidence that specially-designed engines for Israel's drones may have been of UK origin (from a company in Lichfield) - leading Amnesty to question the lack of a robust system of end-use monitoring of British-made equipment sent to Israel and elsewhere.
Amnesty International UK arms controls campaigner Oliver Sprague said:
'The UK government still hasn't revealed whether it has physically checked whether British-made engines have been ending up in Israeli drones.
'In cases like these if the government doesn't proactively check on where UK equipment ends up it will never be able to guarantee that arms sales won't end up fuelling human rights violations.'
Meanwhile, in southern Israel, Amnesty saw the remains of 'Qassam', Grad, and other indiscriminate rockets fired by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups against civilian areas. These unsophisticated weapons - smuggled into Gaza or constructed from components secretly brought in from abroad - cannot be aimed accurately and do not compare with Israeli weaponry, but have nevertheless caused several Israeli civilian deaths and injuries, and have damaged civilian property. As Amnesty's report shows, this weaponry is originally made in Russia (or the Soviet Union), Iran or reportedly China, but actually acquired from clandestine sources.
As Amnesty's report makes clear, direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects, disproportionate attacks and indiscriminate attacks are all war crimes.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Programme Director Malcolm Smart said:
'We urge the UN Security Council to impose an immediate and comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until effective mechanisms are found to ensure that munitions and other military equipment are not used to commit serious violations of international law.
'In addition all states should suspend all transfers of military equipment, assistance and munitions to Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until there is no longer a substantial risk of human rights violations. There must be no return to business as usual, with the predictably devastating consequences for civilians in Gaza and Israel.'
Amnesty's report emphasises the fact that well before the recent three-week conflict, those who armed the two sides will have been aware of a pattern of repeated misuse of weapons by both parties and must therefore take some responsibility for the violations perpetrated with weapons thus supplied.
For many years the USA has been by far the major supplier of conventional arms to Israel. Under a 10-year agreement to 2017, the USA is due to provide $30 billion in military aid to Israel, a 25% increase compared to the period preceding the recent George Bush administration.
Malcolm Smart added:
'As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights.
'To a large extent, Israel's military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with US taxpayers' money.
'The Obama administration should immediately suspend US military aid to Israel.'