Switzerland: Israel violating law in Gaza 
   
   
  GENEVA - 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.
   
  ___
  Associated Press writers Alexander G. Higgins in Geneva and Daniel Friedli in 
Bern, Switzerland, contributed to this report.

                        
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