Gaza (Palestine Online)- Israel may have committed war crimes during its deadly 11-day offensive on the Gaza Strip in May, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.
In the report published on Tuesday, HRW said that it investigated three Israeli strikes that killed 62 Palestinian civilians “where there were no evident military targets in the vicinity,” in some cases, killing entire families in one airstrike.
The May offensive was Israel’s fourth devastating offensive on the besieged Gaza Strip since 2009. Over the course of 11 days, Israel killed at least 256 Palestinians, including 66 children.
“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,” Gerry Simpson, HRW’s associate crisis and conflict director said.
While the report focused on three airstrikes that resulted in the highest civilian death toll “with no evident military targets,” HRW added that other Israeli attacks during the May offensive “were also likely unlawful.”
One of the three attacks highlighted in the report was the attack on the crowded residential neighborhood of al-Wahda street, which Israel bombarded in the early morning hours of May 16th.
The four-minute attack caused three mulit-story buildings to collapse, killing 44 Palestinian civilians, at least half of whom were from the al-Qawlaq family, including eight children.
While the Israeli military claimed at the time, and maintains until today, that the strikes targeted tunnels and an underground command center used by armed Palestinian groups, HRW noted that the army has “presented no details to support that claim.”
In a response to a request from HRW on the cases highlighted in the report, the Israeli army said that it “strikes military targets exclusively, following an assessment that the potential collateral damage resulting from the attack is not excessive in relation to the expected military advantage.”
The army statement added that it makes” concerted efforts to reduce harm to uninvolved individuals [and] in many of the [May] strikes … when possible … provided civilians located within military targets with prior warning.”
HRW called on Israel’s allies like the United States, which funds Israel’s military with billions of dollars every year, to “condition future security assistance to Israel on it taking concrete and verifiable actions to improve its compliance with the laws of war and international human rights law, and to investigate past abuses.”
The report added that in at least two of the attacks investigated by the group, the weapons used by Israel were US-made.
In the report, HRW also noted that rocket fire from armed Palestinian groups into Israel may have also violated the laws of war, and that the group is conducting a separate investigation into those incidents.
Of the “laws of war”, HRW said this:
“Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, warring parties may target only military objectives. They must take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians, including by providing effective advance warnings of attacks. Deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects are prohibited. The laws of war also prohibit indiscriminate attacks, which include attacks that do not distinguish between civilians and military targets or do not target a military objective. Attacks in which the expected harm to civilians and civilian property is disproportionate to the anticipated military gain are also prohibited. Individuals who commit serious violations of the laws of war with criminal intent – that is, deliberately or recklessly– are responsible for war crimes.”
The group urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) and judicial authorities in other countries to investigate and prosecute “those credibly implicated in serious crimes in the OPT and in Israel under the principle of universal jurisdiction.”
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