AFP - A comprehensive arms embargo must be placed on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in the aftermath of the recent conflict in Gaza and southern Israel, Amnesty International said on Monday.
The London-based human rights group said it had found evidence that Israel and Hamas had both used weapons supplied from overseas to carry out attacks on civilians, accusing both sides of committing war crimes during the three-week conflict at the start of the year.
It called for the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo until mechanisms were put in place to ensure that military equipment was not used to commit violations of international law.
"Israeli forces used white phosphorus and other weapons supplied by the USA to carry out serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes," said Donatella Rovera, who headed an Amnesty fact-finding mission to southern Israel and Gaza.
"Their attacks resulted in the death of hundreds of children and other civilians, and massive destruction of homes and infrastructure."
Rovera added: "At the same time, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups fired hundreds of rockets that had been smuggled in or made of components from abroad at civilian areas in Israel.
"Though far less lethal than the weaponry used by Israel, such rocket firing also constitutes a war crime and caused several civilian deaths."
Amnesty said it had found fragments and components of artillery, tank shells, mortar fins and airborne missiles and bombs in school playgrounds, hospitals and homes in Gaza.
In southern Israel, meanwhile, it found remains of rockets fired indiscriminately at civilian areas by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups.
"We urge the UN Security Council to impose an immediate and comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until effective mechanisms are found to ensure that munitions and other military equipment are not used to commit serious violations of international law," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's Middle East director.
"In addition all states should suspend all transfers of military equipment, assistance and munitions to Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until there is no longer a substantial risk of human rights violations.
"There must be no return to business as usual, with the predictably devastating consequences for civilians in Gaza and Israel."
Israel's foreign ministry panned the report, which it said "presents a biased version of the events, and does not adhere to professional criteria and objectivity."
Israel insisted -- as it did during the war -- that it did not deliberately target civilians and that all the weaponry it used "comply both with international law and with its usage by Western armies."
Israel also rejected the comparison of its use of imported weapons to that of Hamas. "Israel is a sovereign nation that is obligated to use force to protect its citizens, while Hamas is a terror organisation," the ministry said.
Both Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement ruling Gaza called unilateral ceasefires on January 18 after a massive 22-day Israeli offensive on the territory that killed 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
The calm has since been repeatedly tested as Palestinian militants have fired more than 45 rockets and mortar rounds at southern Israel and the Israeli military has carried out several air strikes.