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HRW accuses IDF, Hamas of committing war crimes in latest Gaza conflict

CM 27/07/2021

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Human Rights Watch on Tuesday issued a report accusing the IDF and Hamas of war crimes during the last Gaza war in May.
The war crimes accusations came two months after the end of the conflict and before Israel has released its own findings of certain incidents. These sometimes take several months, or even longer to complete.
HRW said, however, that “the Israeli military and Palestinian authorities have a long track record of failing to investigate laws of war violations committed in or from Gaza.”
Israel performed over 30 criminal probes and over 500 initial probes of incidents involving its soldiers in the 2014 Gaza war and during other incidents in recent years but HRW regards Israeli probes as whitewashing, including in the half-dozen or so cases where IDF soldiers have been sentenced to jail terms, saying the relatively short terms were too lenient.

In the HRW report, the focus was on three specific incidents from May in which it said 62 Palestinian civilians were killed.
The IDF allegedly killed 260 Palestinians in over 1,500 airstrikes and HRW says that at least 129 were civilians and 66 were children.
Despite the heavy civilian toll, this ratio of civilian deaths to air strikes was much lower than in past Israeli conflicts and in some operations by other countries, such as the US.
Still, the UN Human Rights Council has already established a commission to probe Israel for alleged war crimes. Further, the International Criminal Court announced in mid-May that it may add incidents from the May war into its war crimes probe that encompasses incidents dating back to 2014.
The HRW report also accused “Palestinian armed groups” – a clear reference to Hamas and Islamic Jihad – of war crimes for “launching more than 4,360 unguided rockets and mortars towards Israeli population centers, violating the prohibition of deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians.”
In addition, the report noted 12 Israelis were killed during the war, that some Gazans were killed by misfired rockets from Gaza, and that a later report will be more detailed.
According to the report, since late May, HRW interviewed 30 Palestinians who witnessed Israeli attacks and who were relatives of civilians killed or were residents of targeted areas.
The NGO also visited the site of four strikes, inspected remnants of munitions, and analyzed satellite imagery, video footage, and photographs taken following the attacks.
HRW said that it focused on incidents “that resulted in high numbers of civilian casualties and where there was no evident military target. Other Israeli attacks during the conflict were also likely unlawful.”
In its analysis, HRW bases its conclusion that there was no evident military target on its lack of information of what the military targets were.
According to HRW, the three incidents were: 1) when an Israeli-guided missile struck near four houses of the al-Masri family, killing eight civilians, including six children on May 10, near the town of Beit Hanoun; 2) On May 15 a guided bomb destroyed a three-story building in Shati refugee camp, killing 10 civilians, two women and eight children from two related families; and 3) on May 16, a series of Israeli airstrikes lasting four minutes hit al-Wahda Street in Gaza City, causing three multi-story buildings to collapse, killing 44 civilians.
In a letter response to HRW on July 13, the IDF’s Head of the Strategy and Operations Branch, Lt.-Col. Mika Lifschitz responded that its targeting decisions were lawful and that incidents in which civilians were killed either involved lawful targets in which there was some civilian collateral damage or added that some incidents were being probed.
Piecing together different IDF statements, HRW said that it appeared that the IDF’s justification for the May 10 attack near Beit Hanoun might relate to Mohammed Ali Mohammed Nusser, one of the men killed in the strike, and rockets launched by Islamic Jihad into Israel around the same time.
Yet, HRW said it “found no evidence of a military target at or near the site of the strike.”
Moreover, the NGO stated that Israel had not identified a specific act it was retaliating against or presented evidence that Nusseir was a combatant which would rebut testimony, from Palestinians who knew him, that he was a mere seller of goods using a horse cart.
In the second incident, HRW stated that “The Israeli military said it targeted a building in Shati camp on the night of May 15 because ‘a number of Hamas terror organization senior officials [were] in an apartment used as terror infrastructure,’ and that the attack killed 10 people.”
However, HRW said Israel did not offer any evidence that any attack originated from this group or area at the time of the Israeli airstrike.
The circumstances of the third incident are far clearer with the IDF already having admitted that the deaths of the civilians on al-Wahda Street were a mistake and the unexpected result of striking a different target on the block.
According to the IDF, the civilians were killed when the tunnel which was attacked elsewhere collapsed.
This unexpectedly caused the collapse of the structure where the civilians were residing on al-Wahda Street.
Still, HRW said the IDF had not presented evidence of the underground tunnel threat.
Generally, Israel rejects HRW and other groups’ requests to be given detailed intelligence assessments of the specific threats beyond general statements of the nature of the targets attacked, arguing that no militaries disclose this level of intelligence publicly.
Regarding the al-Wahda Street incident, generally, Israel argues such a mistake could not lead to a criminal probe, but to improving future procedures.
HRW complained that Israel denied its officials who live outside of Gaza access to visit and inspect the areas where the incidents in question occurred.
It pressed that, “Israel’s partners, particularly the United States, which supplies significant military assistance and whose US-made weapons were used in at least two of the attacks investigated by Human Rights Watch, should condition future security assistance to Israel on it taking concrete and verifiable actions to improve its compliance with the laws of war.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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