Israel's prime minister has assembled a team to defend the country
against charges of war crimes in its recent offensive against Hamas
militants in the Gaza Strip.
Ehud Olmert asked Israeli Justice
Minister Daniel Friedman Thursday to lead an inter-ministerial team to
prepare legal defenses for Israeli officials and military personnel.
Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz warned earlier this week that Israel
may face a wave of international lawsuits over its 22-day offensive,
which ended Sunday.
U.N. human rights expert Richard Falk said
Thursday there is evidence that Israel violated humanitarian law by
conducting the offensive, "against an essentially defenseless
population." He called for an independent investigation to see if
Israel committed war crimes.
Israel insists its troops did their
best to limit civilian casualties in heavily-populated battle zones. It
also accuses Hamas militants of hiding behind Palestinian civilians and
firing at Israelis from civilian and U.N. buildings.
military has banned publication of the names of Israeli commanders who
took part in the offensive for fear they could face prosecution when
Falk is the U.N. special rapporteur on human
rights in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. He made his comments in a
phone call to reporters in Geneva from his home in the U.S. state of
Falk also accused Israel of trapping Gaza's civilian
population in the war zone and preventing children, the sick and
wounded from fleeing the territory.
Israel says it launched the
offensive as an act of self-defense against hundreds of indiscriminate
Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli communities.
Israel and Hamas
both declared cease-fires Sunday, ending major combat. Thirteen-hundred
Palestinians and 13 Israelis died in the violence.
government says it will allow journalists free access to Gaza beginning
Friday. Israel barred the media from entering the territory during its
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.