GENEVA, AP – Switzerland accused Israel of violating international law in its Gaza offensive by inflicting heavy destruction and endangering civilians in acts of collective punishment banned under the Geneva Conventions.
Switzerland said Monday that Israel’s destruction last week of the main Gaza electricity power station and its attack on the office of the Palestinian prime minister were unjustified.
It also urged Israel to free dozens of arrested officials of the ruling Hamas group, including Cabinet ministers and lawmakers.
Israel has used tanks, troops, gunboats and aircraft to attack the Gaza area over the past week to press militants to free a captured Israeli soldier.
“A number of actions by the Israeli defense forces in their offensive against the Gaza Strip have violated the principle of proportionality and are to be seen as forms of collective punishment, which is forbidden,” the Swiss Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“The arbitrary arrests of a large number of democratically elected representatives of the people and ministers … cannot be justified,” the ministry added.
Switzerland also called for the “rapid release” of the captive Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit. But it said Israel had an obligation “to respect international humanitarian law in the measures it undertakes to liberate the captured soldier.”
Israel’s ambassador to Bern said Switzerland’s criticism was unfair, noting that Israel was supplying Gaza’s people with electricity, water, fresh food and medicine even though the ruling Palestinian Hamas group is sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction.
“They have criticized us even though we are showing restraint,” Aviv Shir-On told The Associated Press. “We are disappointed that the Swiss government did not issue such statements when Israel’s civilian population was constantly under attack from the Gaza Strip.”
The Swiss statement did not name the Geneva Conventions but referred to provisions of the 1949 treaty, which is regarded as the cornerstone of international law on the obligations of warring and occupying powers.
Switzerland, as the depositary of the conventions, has a responsibility to call meetings if it finds problems with the treaty’s implementation, but it does not have special powers to interpret the document.
Both the principle of proportionality and the ban on collective punishment are found in the Fourth Geneva Convention, which spells out the obligations of occupying powers toward the civilian population under their control.
Switzerland said it had earmarked an additional $820,000 to provide medical supplies to civilians in Gaza.