Advertisement

Human Rights Watch accuses Israel, Palestinian militants of war crimes in May conflict

A Palestinian youth walks among the rubble of a building that collapsed after it was hit by airstrikes during an 11-day war between Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel last May, in the Maghazi Refugee Camp, central Gaza Strip, Monday, July 12, 2021. AP Photo/Adel Hana

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday accused the Israeli military of carrying out attacks that “apparently amount to war crimes” during an 11-day war in May against the Hamas militant group.

The international human rights organization issued its conclusions after investigating three Israeli airstrikes that it said killed 62 Palestinian civilians. It said “there were no evident military targets in the vicinity” of the attacks.

Read more: War between Israel, Hamas shines spotlight on traumatized Gazan children

The report also accused Palestinian militants of apparent war crimes by launching over 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 report, however, focused on Israeli actions during the fighting, and the group said it would issue a separate report on the actions of Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in August.

Story continues below advertisement

“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.

He said Israel’s “consistent unwillingness to seriously investigate alleged war crimes,” coupled with Palestinian rocket fire at Israeli civilian areas, underscored the importance of an ongoing investigation into both sides by the International Criminal Court, or ICC.

Click to play video: 'Isaac Herzog sworn in as Israel’s 11th president, pledges to heal societal ‘rifts’' Isaac Herzog sworn in as Israel’s 11th president, pledges to heal societal ‘rifts’
Isaac Herzog sworn in as Israel’s 11th president, pledges to heal societal ‘rifts’ – Jul 7, 2021

The Israeli military has repeatedly said its attacks were aimed at military targets in Gaza. It says it takes numerous precautions to avoid harming civilians and blames Hamas for civilian casualties by launching rocket attacks and other military operations inside residential areas.

The war erupted on May 10 after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets toward Jerusalem in support of Palestinian protests against Israel’s heavy-handed policing of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, built on a contested site sacred to Jews and Muslims, and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers in a nearby neighbourhood. During the fighting, Hamas fired over 4,000 rockets and mortars toward Israel, while Israel has said it struck over 1,000 targets it says were linked to Gaza militants.

Story continues below advertisement

In all, some 254 people were killed in Gaza, including at least 67 children and 39 women, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Hamas has acknowledged the deaths of 80 militants, while Israel has claimed the number is much higher. Twelve civilians, including two children, were killed in Israel, along with one soldier.

The HRW report looked into Israeli airstrikes. The most serious, on May 16, involved a series of strikes on 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 dead were members of a single family, the al-Kawlaks.

Read more: Israel must stop all settlement activities to prevent more Palestinian conflict: Garneau

Israel has said the attacks were aimed at tunnels used by Hamas militants in the area and that the damage to the homes was unintentional.

In its investigation, HRW concluded that Israel had used U.S.-made GBU-31 precision-guided bombs, and that Israel had not warned any of the 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,” it wrote.

The investigation also looked at a May 10 explosion that killed eight people, including six children, near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It said the two adults were civilians.

Story continues below advertisement
Click to play video: 'Palestinian foreign minister accuses Israel of genocide; Israel says its war is not “with the Palestinians”' Palestinian foreign minister accuses Israel of genocide; Israel says its war is not “with the Palestinians”
Palestinian foreign minister accuses Israel of genocide; Israel says its war is not “with the Palestinians” – May 20, 2021

In a statement Tuesday, the Israeli military said the casualties were caused by errant rocket fire launched by militant groups, not Israeli airstrikes. It released aerial photos of what it said was the launch site, some 7.5 kilometers (four miles) away, and the landing area.

“This incident demonstrates the blatant disregard for civilian life on the part of terror organizations in the Gaza Strip,” it said.

But based on an analysis of munition remnants and witness accounts, HRW said evidence indicated the weapon had been “a type of guided missile.”

“Human Rights Watch found no evidence of a military target at or near the site of the strike,” it said.

The New York-based group said that Israel refused to allow its investigators to enter Gaza. Instead, it said it relied on a field researcher based in Gaza, along with satellite images, expert reviews of photos of munitions fragments and interviews conducted by video and telephone.

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: Israel launches airstrikes in Gaza Strip as conflict with Hamas erupts once again

The third attack HRW investigated occurred on May 15, in which an Israeli airstrike destroyed a three-story building in Gaza’s Shati refugee camp. The strike killed 10 people, including two women and eight children.

HRW investigators determined the building was hit by a U.S.-made guided missile. It said Israel has said that senior Hamas officials were hiding in the building. But the group said no evidence of a military target at or near the site and called for an investigation into whether there was a legitimate military objective and “all feasible precautions” were taken to avoid civilian casualties.

The May conflict was the fourth war between Israel and Hamas since the Islamic militant group, which opposes Israel’s existence, seized control of Gaza in 2007. Human Rights Watch, other rights groups and U.N. officials have accused both sides of committing war crimes in all of the conflicts.

Early this year, HRW accused Israel of being guilty of international crimes of apartheid and persecution because of discriminatory polices toward Palestinians, both inside Israel as well as in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel rejected the accusations.

Click to play video: 'Israel-Hamas conflict displaces thousands, many essential services lost in Gaza' Israel-Hamas conflict displaces thousands, many essential services lost in Gaza
Israel-Hamas conflict displaces thousands, many essential services lost in Gaza – May 18, 2021

In Tuesday’s report, it called on the United States to condition security assistance to Israel on it taking “concrete and verifiable actions” to comply with international human rights law and to investigate past abuses.

Story continues below advertisement

It also called on the ICC to include the recent Gaza war in its ongoing investigation into possible war crimes by Israel and Palestinian militant groups. Israel does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction and says it is capable of investigating any potential wrongdoing by its army and that the ICC probe is unfair and politically motivated.

Sponsored content