Both sides violated laws of war in Israeli-Palestinian conflict, report says

Human Rights Watch focused on attacks killing civilians during 11-day clash in May

Paramedics search for survivors under the rubble of a destroyed building in Gaza city on May 16th, 2021, following massive Israeli bombardment of the Hamas-controlled enclave. Photograph:  Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty

Paramedics search for survivors under the rubble of a destroyed building in Gaza city on May 16th, 2021, following massive Israeli bombardment of the Hamas-controlled enclave. Photograph: Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty

 

Both Israel and militant groups in Gaza carried out attacks during the conflict last May that violated the laws of war and apparently amount to war crimes, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report issued on Tuesday said.

The HRW report focused on three Israeli strikes that killed 62 Palestinian civilians where it claims there were no evident military targets in the vicinity.

Palestinian armed groups also committed unlawful attacks, HRW said, launching more than 4,360 unguided rockets and mortars towards Israeli population centres, violating the prohibition against deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians, but a separate report on Palestinian violations will be issued at a later date.

According to the United Nations, during the 11 days of fighting, 260 Palestinians were killed including at least 129 civilians, of whom 66 were children. Hamas confirmed that 80 of its fighters were killed but Israel puts the figure much higher. Twelve civilians, including two children, were killed in Israel, along with one soldier.

The most serious incident investigated by HRW was a series of attacks on May 16th on Gaza city’s main thoroughfare, Al-Wahda street. The air strikes destroyed three apartment buildings, killing 44 civilians, including 18 children.

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

Explosion

The investigation also looked at a May 10th explosion that killed eight people, including six children, near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. HRW said it found no evidence of a military target at or near the site of the strikes. Israel has suggested the explosion was caused by a Palestinian rocket which fell short.

The Israeli military stressed that it took measures to avoid civilian casualties.

“In many of the Israel defence forces strikes the army provided civilians located within military targets with prior warning so they may evacuate and has employed various measures to ensure civilians had, in fact, evacuated – all with the object of avoiding harm to uninvolved individuals.”

The army also said it was investigating various incidents that took place during the Gaza conflict to assess whether the obligatory rules had been breached and, if so, it said appropriate disciplinary steps would be taken.

Fearing that hundreds of soldiers and officials could be issued with international arrest warrants, Israel earlier this year said it would refuse to co-operate with an investigation launched by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague over a previous round of fighting in Gaza in 2014.

The ICC prosecutor at the time, Fatou Bensouda, declared during the conflict in May that the court was also closely watching Israel and Hamas for potential war crimes in the latest round of fighting.