Spain: Judicial probe looks at 2002 Gaza war crime claims
Spain’s Audiencia Nacional, or National Audience, is a senior court which considers charges related to terrorism and organised crime.
January 29 2009
A Spanish judge on Thursday began an official inquiry into seven former and current Israeli officials alleged to have committed war crimes after a 2002 attack in the Gaza Strip. A top Hamas militant and 14 civilians including nine children were killed in an Israeli airstrike.
A court document released by the judge, Fernando Andreu Merelles, outlined the charges to be considered by the Madrid court.
“As a consequence of the explosion caused by the bomb, 15 people died, mostly children and babies, 150 people were injured – some of them severely – with permanent after affects, eight houses were completely destroyed, nine houses were partially destroyed and 21 others had moderate damage,” said the document issued by the Audiencia Nacional court.
The Spanish lawsuit was brought by members of the families who lost relatives in the attack – the Mattar, al-Seadi, el-Houweit and al-Sahhwa families.
Merelles is expected to investigate former Israeli minister of defence and current minister of infrastructure Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, former Israel Defence Forces chief of staff Dan Halutz, Likud politician and former IDF chief of staff Moshe Yaalon, as well as Doron Almog, Giora Eiland and Michael Herzog.
In the attack, Hamas militant Salah Shehadeh was killed by an air strike in an extrajudicial assassination by Israeli forces.
“The day of 22 July 2002, between 23:30 and 24:00, an Israeli F16 warplane dropped a one-tonne bomb on the neighbourhood of al-Daraj in Gaza City,” said the report by the specialised court.
“The main target of the attack was the house of Salah Shehadeh, who was suspected to be a Hamas commander, thus the aim of the mission was to assassinate him. Shehadeh’s house was located in a residential area with one of the highest population densities in the world.”
“Near the house of Salah Shehadeh there was a house which belonged and was occupied by the Mattar family. There was less than two metres of distance between both houses. As a result of the bombing, his house was completely destroyed and seven members of his family were killed.”
Andreu is acting under a doctrine that allows prosecution in Spain of such an offence or crimes like terrorism or genocide even if they were allegedly committed in another country.
Referring to the fourth Geneva convention of 1949, the court said the accused could face from 10 to 15 years in jail.
Recently Israeli ministers publicly expressed concerns about the possibility of a wave of war crime lawsuits against Israeli military commanders and soldiers after the three-week long Operation Cast Lead which ended with separate ceasefires on 18 January.
Israel’s offensive against the coastal territory resulted in the death of 1,330 Palestinians, 400 of those were women and children. At least 5,400 others were injured, according to Palestinian medical sources and rights groups.