Israeli group calls power plant attack a 'war crime'

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The Independent Online

The air strike on Gaza's only power station that has left most residents with half their normal electricity supply three months later was a war crime, according to the Israeli human rights group B'tselem.

A 34-page report says the cuts in power are: harming health care; drastically limiting water supplies to three hours a day; plunging sew-age treatment to near crisis levels; limiting the mobility of high-rise dwellers by halting lifts; and threatening residents with food poisoning because of interruptions to refrigeration.

The report, entitled Act of Vengeance, says the cuts in power have also seriously disrupted small businesses in Gaza, deepening an economic crisis already far worse than that faced by Gaza's 1.3 million residents at the peak of the Palestinian uprising three years ago.

B'tselem says the Israeli missile strike, which disabled the US-insured power station by destroying six transformers three days after the abduction of the Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit by Gaza militants, is in breach of international law because it deliberately targeted a "civilian object".

The agency says Article 54(2) of the Geneva Protocol states that: "It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population." Article 52 of the protocol says lawful attacks are limited to, "military objects", defined as those, "whose total or partial destruction... offers a definite military advantage".

Arguing that no such advantage resulted from the strike, B'tselem says the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) supported the strike on the power station and three bridges in the Gaza Strip on 28 June by saying that, "the actions are intended to make it difficult and to disrupt the activity of the terror infrastructure related directly and indirectly to the abduction of Cpl Gilad Shalit".

After B'tselem wrote to Israel's Defence Minister about the strikes an official wrote back on behalfof the Judge Advocate General's office saying that "the infrastructure targets... assist the illegal activity of the terror organisations in the Gaza Strip".

The B'tselem report says: "The fact that both the IDF spokesperson and the Judge Advocate General took special care not to mention how the attack on the power plant, or power stoppages resulting from it, would 'disrupt the activity of the terror infrastructure' or the 'launching of Qassam rockets at Israeli communities' speaks for itself."

B'tselem adds that it is still waiting for a reply to a request of the Judge Advocate General to explain the connection. The agency says even if the "doubtful" claim that the attack provided a military advantage, the attack breached international law by being disproportionate.

B'taselem wants Israel to prosecute those responsible for ordering the strike, to fund rehabilitation of the plant, to upgrade electricity supplies from Israel and allow compensatory claims by Gaza's residents.

The IDF said last night said it had no comment to make on the report.

* The Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister, Naser al-Shaer, a senior Hamas official, was freed from detention yesterday by an IDF court. His lawyer said there was no evidence against him.