By Josef Federman | Associated Press
JERUSALEM – Human Rights Watch on Tuesday accused the Israeli army on Tuesday of “apparently amounting to war crimes” during an 11-day war in May against the Hamas militant group.
The international human rights organization has issued its conclusions following an investigation into three Israeli airstrikes that they say killed 62 Palestinian civilians. It is said that there were no clear military targets in the vicinity of the attacks.
The report also accuses Palestinian militants of apparent war crimes by sending more than 4,000 unarmed rockets and mortars to Israeli population centers. Such attacks are said to ‘violate the prohibition of intentional or indiscriminate attacks on civilians’.
However, the report focused on Israeli action during the fighting, and the group said it would release a separate report on the actions of Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in August.
“Israeli forces carried out attacks in Gaza in May that devastated entire families without an apparent military target nearby,” said Gerry Simpson, co-crisis and conflict director at HRW.
He said Israel’s “constant unwillingness to seriously investigate alleged war crimes”, coupled with Palestinian rockets in Israeli civilian areas, stressed the importance of an ongoing investigation into both sides by the International Criminal Court, or ICC.
In a statement, the Israeli military said its attacks were aimed at military targets and that it had taken numerous precautions not to harm civilians. Hamas is said to be responsible for civilian casualties because it launches attacks from residential areas.
“While the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip are deliberately including their military assets in densely populated civilian areas, the IDF is taking all possible measures to reduce the damage to civilians and civilian property as much as possible,” he said.
The war broke out on May 10 after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem in support of Palestinian protests against Israel’s heavy-handed policing of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, built on a disputed site sacred to Jews and Muslims, and the threatened expulsion of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers in a nearby neighborhood. Israel said it hit more than 1,000 targets during the fighting.
A total of 254 people were killed in Gaza, including at least 67 children and 39 women, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. Hamas has acknowledged the deaths of 80 militants, while Israel claims the number is much higher. Twelve civilians, including two children, were killed in Israel, along with one soldier.
The HRW report examined Israeli airstrikes. The most serious, on May 16, involved a series of strikes in Al-Wahda Street, a central thoroughfare in downtown Gaza City. The airstrikes destroyed three apartment buildings and killed a total of 44 civilians, HRW said, including 18 children and 14 women. Twenty-two of the deceased were members of a single family, the al-Kawlaks.
The Israeli army said the attacks were aimed at tunnels used by Hamas militants in the area. The airstrikes unexpectedly caused buildings in the area to collapse, leading to ‘unintentional casualties’, he said.
In its investigation, HRW concluded that Israel used GBU-31 precision-guided bombs in the US, and that it did not warn residents to evacuate the area ahead of time. No evidence of military targets was found in the area.
“An attack that is not aimed at a specific military target is illegal,” he wrote.
The investigation also looked at an explosion on May 10 in which eight people, including six children, were killed near the city of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza. The two adults are said to have been civilians.
In its statement, the Israeli army said the casualties were caused by stray rockets fired by militant groups, not by Israeli airstrikes. It released aerial photos of the launch site, about 7.5 kilometers, and the landing area. It also said it did not carry out any attacks in the area during the blast.
But based on an analysis of ammunition remains and evidence reports, HRW said evidence indicated that the weapon was a type of guided missile used by Israel.
“Human Rights Watch has not found any evidence of a military target on or near the site of the strike,” he said.
The group in New York said Israel refuses to allow its investigators to enter Gaza. Instead, he said he relied on a field researcher in Gaza, along with satellite images, expert reviews of photos of ammunition fragments, and interviews conducted by video and telephone.
The third attack that HRW investigated took place on May 15, in which an Israeli airstrike destroyed a three-story building in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza. The strike killed ten people, including two women and eight children.
Israel said the target was a group of senior Hamas officials hiding in an apartment, and that the civilian deaths were unintentional and “under scrutiny.”
But Human Rights Watch said there was no evidence of a military target on or near the site, and called for an investigation into whether there was a legitimate military target and that “all feasible precautions” be taken to protect civilians. to avoid casualties. HRW investigators concluded that the building was hit by a U.S.-made guided missile.
The May conflict was the fourth war between Israel and Hamas since the Islamic militant group, which opposes the existence of Israel, took control of Gaza in 2007. Human Rights Watch, other rights groups and UN officials have both accused parties of committing war crimes. the conflicts.
Earlier this year, HRW accused Israel of being guilty of international crimes of apartheid for discriminatory policies against Palestinians, both in Israel and in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel has denied the allegations.
In Tuesday’s report, HRW called on the United States to suggest security assistance to Israel that they take ‘concrete and verifiable actions’ to comply with international human rights law and to investigate past abuses.
It also called on the ICC to include the recent war in Gaza in its ongoing investigation into possible war crimes by Israel and Palestinian militants. Israel does not recognize the jurisdiction of the court and says that it is capable of investigating any crimes by its military, and that the ICC investigation is unfair and politically motivated.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Bassem Naim called for Israeli leaders to be brought before “international tribunals”. He also claims that Hamas’s rocket fire is a “legal right to resist the occupation.”