Amnesty accuses Israel of enforcing 'apartheid' on Palestinians

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JERUSALEM, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Amnesty International accused Israel on Tuesday of subjecting Palestinians to a system of apartheid founded on policies of "segregation, dispossession and exclusion" that it said amounted to crimes against humanity.

The London-based rights group said its findings were based on research and legal analysis in a 211-page report into Israeli seizure of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, forcible transfer of people and denial of citizenship.

Israel and its top ally the United States rejected the report, the second by an international rights group in less than a year to accuse it of pursuing a policy of apartheid, a word originally used to describe South Africa's racist policy of white minority rule and segregation in the 20th century.

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Israel said the report "consolidates and recycles lies" from hate groups and was designed to "pour fuel onto the fire of antisemitism". It accused Amnesty UK of using "double standards and demonization in order to delegitimize Israel".

Palestinians praised the report.

"The United Nations Security Council and the General Assembly are obliged to heed the compelling evidence presented by Amnesty and other leading human rights organizations and hold Israel accountable for its crimes against the Palestinian people, including through sanctions," the Palestinian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Amnesty said Israel was enforcing a system of oppression and domination against Palestinians "wherever it has control over their rights", including Arab citizens of Israel, Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territory and refugees living abroad.

The measures included restrictions on Palestinian movement in territory occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, underinvestment in Palestinian communities in Israel, and preventing the return of Palestinian refugees.

Alongside forcible transfers, torture and unlawful killings, which Amnesty said were intended to maintain a system of "oppression and domination", they constitute "the crime against humanity of apartheid".

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said: "Israel is not perfect, but it is a democracy committed to international law and open to scrutiny" with a free press and a strong Supreme Court.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters: "We reject the view that Israel's actions constitute apartheid."

Price added: "(We) think that it is important, as the world's only Jewish state, that the Jewish people must not be denied their right to self-determination, and we must ensure there isn't a double standard being applied."

Israel has cited security concerns in imposing travel restrictions on Palestinians, whose uprising in the early 2000s included suicide bombings in Israeli cities.

"SHOCK AND DISTURB"

Palestinians seek a state of their own in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Gaza, a coastal strip that Israel also seized in the 1967 war but left in 2005, is run by Hamas, considered by the West to be a terrorist group.

The last round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.

"Our conclusions may shock and disturb - and they should," Amnesty Secretary General Agnes Callamard said at a news conference in Jerusalem.

"Some within the government of Israel may seek to deflect from them by falsely accusing Amnesty of attempting to destabilize Israel or being antisemitic, or unfairly singling out Israel," Callamard said, adding that such criticism was "baseless."

The Jewish Federations of North America denounced the report it described as "irresponsibly distorts international law, and advances hateful and disparaging rhetoric associated with age-old antisemitic tropes, while ignoring or whitewashing violence, terror and incitement committed by Palestinians."

The Central Council of Jews in Germany echoed those remarks and called on Amnesty International's German section to distance itself from the report, which it called antisemitic.

Amnesty said the U.N. Security Council should impose an arms embargo on Israel for killing scores of civilians during weekly protests on the border with Gaza in 2018-19. Israel has said those protests included attempts by Palestinian militants to breach its border fence.

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Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Ankara, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Paul Carrel in Geneva and Rami Ayyub and Simon Lewis in Washington; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Angus MacSwan and Alistair Bell

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