The attacks of the Israeli military during the Gaza conflict in May “apparently amount to war crimes,” the Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated Tuesday, stressing that there is a need for an International Criminal Court (ICC) Inquiry.
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.
The report 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 resistance groups in August.
“Israeli forces carried out attacks in Gaza in May that devastated entire families without any apparent military target nearby,” said Gerry Simpson, associated 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 ICC.
There was no immediate reaction to the report by the Israeli military, which has repeatedly said its attacks were aimed at military targets in Gaza. It blames Hamas for civilian casualties by launching rocket attacks and other military operations inside residential areas.
Hundreds of Palestinian protesters were injured in renewed attacks by the Israeli police in the occupied East Jerusalem holy site, the Al-Aqsa Mosque after raids and attacks against peaceful worshippers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Israeli security forces fired rubber-coated bullets, tear gas and stun grenades, wounding hundreds ahead of a rally by hardline Jewish groups to celebrate "Jerusalem Day," commemorating Israel's victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. The protesters retaliated by throwing stones and other objects at the police. Palestinians reported stun grenades fired into the mosque complex, with dozens injured.
Tensions in Jerusalem soared as Palestinians protested against Israel's restrictions on access to parts of the Old City during Ramadan, and after authorities ordered several Palestinian families to leave their homes to make way for Israeli settlers.
Some 254 people have been killed in Gaza, including at least 67 children and 39 women, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
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.
Israel has said the attacks were aimed at tunnels used by Hamas in the area and suggested 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.
Israel has suggested the explosion was caused by a misfired Palestinian rocket. 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 third attack it 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.
Early this year, HRW accused Israel of being guilty of international crimes of apartheid and persecution because of discriminatory policies toward Palestinians, both inside Israel as well as in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel rejected the accusations.
In Tuesday’s report, it called on the U.S. to condition security assistance to Israel on taking “concrete and verifiable actions” to comply with international human rights law and to investigate past abuses.
It also called on the ICC to include the recent Gaza war in its ongoing investigation into possible war crimes by Israel. 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.
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