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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Annan Calls Israeli Offensive 'Warfare'

UNITED NATIONS -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Israel's recent offensive resembled "all-out conventional warfare," resulting in illegitimate attacks on civilians, ambulances and schools, said a letter obtained Monday.

The blunt letter, unusual for Annan, was sent to Sharon on March 12 during a week of increasing world criticism of Israel's use of heavy weaponry against Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which Israel occupied after the 1967 war.

"Judging from the means and methods employed by the Israel Defense Force -- F-16 fighter bombers, helicopter and naval gunships, missiles and bombs of heavy tonnage -- the fighting has come to resemble all-out conventional warfare," he said.

"Israel is fully entitled to defend itself against terror," Annan wrote. "But this right does not discharge it of its obligation to respect the fundamental principles and rules of international law."

Specifically, Annan pointed to the killing and injuring of civilians and the firing at hospitals and schools, in one case fatally shooting a UN guard who was escorting a wounded man to a hospital. All these actions violated the principle of protecting civilians.

Annan requested Sharon initiate a "full investigation" into Israeli soldiers firing at ambulances and medical personnel "and that you take immediate steps to ensure that they are not repeated in the future."

He called statements by Israeli government officials that ambulances may have been used to smuggle Palestinian militants and weapons "unfounded and unsubstantiated."

"These allegations can only result in further danger to medical workers and further impede their vital mission," Annan said in the letter.

Israeli diplomats said Sharon's office had not responded to the letter. One envoy, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was regrettable that the letter was leaked to the media. This would not enhance a dialogue between Israel and the United Nations, he said.

The letter was written last Tuesday, the same day Annan delivered some of his harshest criticism of Israel to the UN Security Council, using the words "illegal occupation," a phrase questioned by both the U.S. and British ambassadors.

Asked later about his "illegal occupation" comment, Annan pointed to UN resolutions that defined actions under occupation as violations. But some UN experts admitted that no resolution had called the occupation itself illegal.

That night, the UN Security Council passed a U.S.-sponsored resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire and for the first time endorsing a Palestinian state.

The same day Israeli forces killed 31 Palestinians as part of their biggest offensive in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since 1967. At least 1,074 Palestinians and 375 Israelis have died since the violence broke out in September 2000.

Annan in the past had been one of the few UN officials accepted by Israel as well as Palestinian leaders as a man of good will, going out of his way to deplore Israel's isolation at the United Nations.

"It sometimes seems as if the United Nations serves all the world's peoples but one: the Jews," he said in late 1999, adding that Israel sometimes received a more intense focus than others in comparable situations.