A report by the independent human rights agency Human Rights Watch (HRW) says its investigations show that Israeli air strikes had targeted areas where there was no evident military presence and that its action amount to war crimes under international law.
Israel insisted throughout its latest multi-week bombardment of Gaza, on which it already imposes a military and economic blockade on, that civilian casualties were a consequence of the presence of militants in the civilian areas it bombarded. The report says that Israel violated international humanitarian law by carrying out deliberate attacks on those areas, where HRW did not find evidence of militant presence.
Those airstrikes in May killed more than 260 Palestinians, including 67 children and 39 women, leading to an international outcry and condemnation over Israel’s actions. Israel offered no real proof of the presence of Hamas or other militants in the buildings it targeted, which included a building occupied by international press agencies.
The HRW reports says Israel violated laws of war and that its actions amount to war crimes.
HRW investigated three specific Israeli airstrike campaigns that that saw numerous Palestinian civilian casualties. In those investigations, it found that “there were no evident military targets in the vicinity” of the attacks.
“Israeli forces carried out attacks in Gaza in May that devastated entire families without any apparent military target nearby,” said Gerry Simpson, associate crisis and conflict director at HRW.
Israeli forces carried out attacks in Gaza in May that devastated entire families without any apparent military target nearby — Gerry Simpson, Human Rights Watch
In one instance on May 16, Israel pummeled Al-Wahda Street in downtown Gaza, destroying three apartment buildings and killed a total of 44 civilians, including 18 children and 14 women. Twenty-two of the dead were members of a single family, the al-Kawlaks.
AP reports that the Israeli military had insisted the attacks were aimed at tunnels used by Hamas militants in the area and that the airstrikes unexpectedly caused nearby buildings to collapse, leading to “unintended casualties.”
HRW says that during those strikes, Israel used U.S.-made GBU-31 precision-guided bombs and that it did not warn residents to evacuate the area ahead of time. It also found no evidence of military targets in the area.
“An attack that is not directed at a specific military objective is unlawful,” the report says.
In a May 10 explosion that killed eight people, including six children, near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, Israeli military said the casualties were caused by runaway rocket fire launched by militant groups, not Israeli airstrikes. It released aerial photos of what it said was the launch site, some 4.5 miles away, and the landing area. It also said it did not carry out any strikes in the area at the time of the explosion.
But the HRW report said evidence indicated the weapon had been “a type of guided missile” used by Israel, based on an analysis of munition remnants and witness accounts.
An investigation of a third attack, on May 15, in which Israel destroyed a three-story building in Gaza’s Shati refugee camp, killing 10 people, including two women and eight children, HRW said it found no evidence of a military target at or near the site. It also called for an investigation into whether there was a legitimate military objective and “all feasible precautions” were taken to avoid civilian casualties.
Gaza’s Health Ministry reported that Israeli forces also injured more than 1,900 Palestinians, including 610 children in the bombardment.
The report also accused Palestinian militants of apparent war crimes by launching more than 4,000 unguided rockets and mortars at Israeli population centers. Such attacks, it said, violate “the prohibition against deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians.” The agency will issue a separate report on the actions of Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in August.
“Israeli authorities’ consistent unwillingness to seriously investigate alleged war crimes, as well as Palestinian forces’ rocket attacks toward Israeli population centers, underscores the importance of the International Criminal Court’s inquiry,” Simpson said.
The agency issued a report in April that detailed how the Israeli government’s discriminatory control over Palestinian “demographics, political power and land” amount to crimes of apartheid and persecution.
— Wire and staff