Amnesty International Thursday condemned Palestinian suicide attacks on Israeli civilians and urged the Palestinian Authority to prosecute those responsible.
The new report called "Without distinction: Attacks on civilians by Palestinian armed groups," calls Palestinian attacks on civilians "crimes against humanity" and “murder,” and said they may also constitute war crimes.
"The attacks by Palestinian armed groups are widespread, systematic and in pursuit of an explicit policy to attack civilians. They therefore constitute crimes against humanity under international law," the human rights group said in the report, adding that they may also represent "war crimes," depending on the legal status of the armed Palestinian groups under international humanitarian law.
"(We) urge the Palestinian Authority to arrest and bring to justice those who order, plan or carry out attacks on civilians," said the report, presented at a news conference in Gaza City.
The report said 350 Israeli civilians had been killed in attacks staged by Palestinian nationalist and Islamic groups over the past 21 months. Sixty of the Israeli dead were children, the youngest five months old. At least 60 others were above age 60, the report added.
"Whatever the cause for which people are fighting, there can never be a justification ... under international law ... for direct attacks on civilians."
Abdel-Salam Sayed Ahmed, Middle East deputy director of the London-based rights group, said it contacted representatives of armed Palestinian groups before issuing the report. "We told them that your right to resistance does not give you a passport to attack civilians and we asked them to stop and denounce such actions," he said.
For his part, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a prominent leader of Hamas told Reuters that it rejected Amnesty's appeal. "We reiterated our right to self-defense. This is not a war between two armies and should not be viewed as such."
"I believe the communique ... deliberately ignores the legitimate motives of our struggle," he said. "It is a communique with bias toward Israel."
For its part, Israel hailed the report. "We welcome the fact that Amnesty condemned these abominable acts and that this organisation considers them a crime against humanity," foreign ministry spokesman Noam Katz told AFP.
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