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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Amnesty Accuses Israel of War Crimes

JERUSALEM -- Israel committed "war crimes," including unlawful killings, in Jenin and Nablus during a broad military offensive in those West Bank cities in April, human rights group Amnesty International said Monday.

The Israeli military said the offensive was launched in self-defense, in response to Palestinian terror attacks on Israeli civilians.

Back in July, Amnesty issued a report that said the Palestinian suicide attacks were "crimes against humanity." Many of those bombers came from Jenin and Nablus. In the latest report, titled "Israel and the Occupied Territories: Shielded from Scrutiny -- IDF violations in Jenin and Nablus," Amnesty said there is "clear evidence that some of the acts committed by the Israel Defense Forces ... were war crimes."

Israeli carried out "unlawful killings, torture and ill treatment of prisoners, wanton destruction of hundreds of homes," according to Amnesty.

Soldiers also blocked access to ambulances and denied humanitarian assistance, leaving the wounded and dead lying in the streets for days, and used Palestinians as human shields while searching for suspected militants, Amnesty said.

"Up to now, the Israeli authorities have failed in their responsibility to bring to justice the perpetrators of serious human rights violations," the Amnesty report said.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Daniel Taub accused Amnesty of ignoring the reasons for the military incursions. "The report describes Israel as going into the West Bank as if this happened in a vacuum," Taub said.

"There really are dilemmas here for any democracy," said Taub, who accused Palestinian fighters of using residential neighborhoods and ambulances for cover during the fighting.

Israel launched a West Bank offensive on March 29 after a series of Palestinian suicide bombings.

Jenin was the site of the heaviest fighting -- more than 50 Palestinians and 23 Israeli soldiers were killed.

There is still a debate about how many of those Palestinians were fighters and how many were civilians.

Israel says the vast majority were fighters. An earlier report by Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based group, found 22 of the Palestinians killed were civilians. The Amnesty report claimed that more than half the Palestinians killed in Jenin were civilians, but did not give specific figures.

Palestinian Cabinet Secretary Ahmed Abdel Rahman applauded Amnesty's accusations.

"The [UN] Security Council and the parties that signed the Geneva Conventions should take this report as proof of war crimes committed by the Israeli government against the Palestinian people and act immediately to punish the Sharon government," Rahman said.

The United Nations opened an investigation into the Jenin fighting after Palestinians alleged Israel had committed a massacre in the refugee camp. The UN ruled that there was no evidence to support the Palestinian claims, but said both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants violated international law.

Kathleen Cavanaugh, a researcher for Amnesty International, said Lieutenant General Shaul Mofaz, who is to become Israel's new defense minister this week, could be charged with war crimes for his role as the army's chief of staff during the incursions.