Human Rights Watch accuses Israel, Hamas of ‘apparent war crimes’ in Gaza

Palestinians return to their destroyed houses following Israel- Hamas truce, in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip May 21, 2021. — Reuters pic
Palestinians return to their destroyed houses following Israel- Hamas truce, in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip May 21, 2021. — Reuters pic

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JERUSALEM, July 28 — Human Rights Watch said yesterday that both Israel and Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas probably committed war crimes during their war in May, accusations that both sides rejected.

The 11-day conflict saw Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza fire thousands of rockets at Israel, which retaliated with hundreds of deadly air strikes.

HRW said it had investigated three Israeli attacks that “killed 62 Palestinian civilians where there were no evident military targets in the vicinity”, interviewing witnesses and analysing data from the sites and digital imagery.

Israel rejected the report, with its foreign ministry accusing the New York-based rights group of having “a long-standing anti-Israeli agenda”.

The HRW report listed a May 10 strike in Beit Hanoun, one on May 15 at the Al-Shati refugee camp and a wave of strikes on May 16 in Gaza City as the focus of its investigation.

It noted “other Israeli attacks during the conflict were also likely unlawful”.

The May 10 strike hit a family as it packed barley into sacks. Eight people including six children died.

Human Rights Watch said it found no evidence that any were combatants, and saw no proof of a military target at the site.

“An attack that is not directed at a specific military objective is unlawful,” it said.

In the second attack, an Israeli strike on a three-storey building in Al-Shati killed 10 people. One resident told researchers that “there was no warning that anything would happen to our house”.

Israel said it had targeted a building in the camp because “a number of Hamas terror organisation senior officials were in an apartment”.

HRW said no witnesses or relatives of the dead were aware of militants in or near the building during the attack.

It also said it believed the building was hit by a bomb made by Boeing and exported by the US to Israel.

The third attack was a four-minute onslaught that destroyed three buildings and killed “44 civilians” including 18 children and 14 women on Gaza City’s Al-Wehda Street.

“None of the witnesses that Human Rights Watch interviewed said they had received or heard about any warning issued by the Israeli authorities to evacuate their buildings before the Israeli strikes,” the group wrote.

Rocket attacks

It said Israeli military videos and munitions collected by Palestinian police indicate the one-tonne bombs used were also made by Boeing.

Israel said at the time it was targeting tunnels used by Hamas, but HRW said it “did not find any evidence of a military target” there.

It also noted “indiscriminate” rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilians, and said these would be addressed in a later report.

The Israeli and Palestinian attacks “violated the laws of war and apparently amount to war crimes”, HRW said.

The Israeli army denied the report, saying HRW had “chosen to recycle previously refuted allegations, instead of condemning violations of international law by Hamas and other terrorist organisations”.

The Israeli foreign ministry said “propagandists masquerading as human rights monitors don’t really deserve to be taken seriously”, in reference to HRW researchers.

HRW had quoted the Israeli military saying it “strikes military targets exclusively” and “makes concerted efforts to reduce harm to uninvolved individuals”.

Hamas spokesman Bassem Naim said the report showed “this occupation state acts as an entity above the law and enjoys impunity through the absolute American support, which protects it from punishment”.

The report comes after the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in March announced a full investigation into the situation in the Israeli-occupied territories.

That probe will focus mainly on the 2014 Gaza War, but will also look at the deaths of Palestinian demonstrators from 2018 onwards.

The ICC said in May it was also monitoring the latest conflict as part of its investigation.

Separately, the UN Human Rights Council decided on May 27 to create an open-ended international probe into violations during the May conflict.

The conflict killed 260 Palestinians including some fighters, according to Gaza authorities. In Israel, 13 people including a soldier were killed, the police and army said. — AFP

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