Egypt's Prosecutor-General Maher Wahed has decided to launch an investigation into the alleged killing of Egyptian prisoners of war (POWs) in the 1956 and 1967 wars with Israel, Al Ahram Weekly reports.
The Egyptian Committee for the Unity of the Arab Nation had lodged a complaint. Israeli and Egyptian newspapers published testimonies five years ago from Israeli officers about the cases.
"I was shocked when I read the news in newspapers," said Amir Salem, director of the Legal Research and Resource Center for Human Rights (LRRCH).
"What is the Egyptian Committee for the Unity of the Arab Nation? Who ever heard of it? And why is the prosecutor-general and not the Foreign Ministry opening the investigation?"
The prosecutor-general's office will not be in charge of the investigation - it will be under the jurisdiction of the district prosecutor for southern Giza.
The secretary-general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Hafez Abu Se'eda, told the newspaper "we really don't need an investigation into whether Israeli officers committed atrocities or not. We want the government to approach the United Nations and the International Court of Justice and demand a serious inquiry. How will the district prosecutor for southern Giza help in this?"
The timing of the prosecutor-general's decision has also been questioned. "Why now, and in this manner? It seems to me it’s for political purposes," said Salem.
According to the 1995 press reports in Maariv newspaper, Israeli soldiers in the 1956 and 1967 wars executed Egyptian POWs, some of whom were wounded. Accounts in the Israeli press were based on the testimony of Israeli officers who expressed no remorse, and said this was legitimate and natural in the heat of battle. Two officers confessed openly to the daily Maariv that they, and other Israeli officers, had killed Egyptian POWs during the wars of 1956 and 1967.
One said his unit killed 49 unarmed POWs in the Sinai during the war of 1956, another said he was responsible for the deaths of more than 500 POWs, including civilian workers, during the 1967. Several human rights groups in Egypt launched their own investigation into the case.
A report issued by the EOHR entitled Crime and Punishment listed the Israeli "crimes" in detail. It also pointed out that these were in violation of international humanitarian law provisions enshrined in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, which Israel signed on 12 August 1949, as well as the two Additional Protocols of 1977.
Both the EOHR and LRRCH filed lawsuits with Egyptian courts demanding that the government take action, specifically suggesting that it take the case to the International Court of Justice. Press reports of the atrocities were published under such headlines as: "We demand another Nuremberg."
Some prominent intellectuals have announced plans for a committee that would bring to justice Israeli soldiers who killed Egyptian POWs.
Political analyst Tahseen Bashir said the decision to launch an investigation into the killings would not affect relations between Israel and Egypt.
"If the prosecutor wants to open an inquiry, and he has enough reasons to do so, they do not have to be linked to the peace process.“
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