HRW: Israel recent attacks on Gaza violated international laws of war

Human Rights Watch (HRW) today accused Israel of violating international laws of war, after demolishing four multi-story buildings by air raids during its 11-day assault on the Gaza Strip in May.

The deadly bombardment killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children, and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

“The apparently unlawful Israeli strikes on four high-rise towers in Gaza City caused serious, lasting harm for countless Palestinians who lived, worked, shopped, or benefited from businesses based there,” said Richard Weir, crisis and conflict researcher for Human Rights Watch.

“The Israeli military should publicly produce the evidence that it says it relies on to carry out these attacks.”

Among the multi-story targets were the nine-storey Al-Jawhara Tower on Al-Jalaa Street and the 12-story Al-Jalaa building, which housed the Associated Press news agency and several other media outlets. The building was also home to dozens of Palestinian families.

Israel has claimed that the high-rise buildings housed offices of Palestinian armed groups, including the headquarters of certain units, military intelligence, and in one tower, offices for “the most valuable Hamas technological equipment” for use against Israel. However, no evidence to support these claims have been made public.

The destruction of the Al-Jalaa building was widely regarded as an attempt to silence journalists covering Israel’s military attacks. In less than a week, Israel bombed the offices of at least 18 media outlets.

HRW conducted interviews with 18 Palestinians who were either witnesses or victims of the airstrikes. It said it also reviewed video footage and photos after the attacks, as well as statements by Israeli and Palestinian officials.

In its investigation, the human rights organiئation concluded that no evidence was found of military operations in the buildings when they were attacked. It also said that even if militants were using the buildings, Israel is obligated to avoid disproportionate harm to civilians.

“Throughout the May hostilities, unlawful Israeli strikes not only killed many civilians but also destroyed high-rise towers, wiping out scores of businesses and homes, upending the lives of thousands of Palestinians,” Weir said. “Donor funding alone will not rebuild Gaza. The crushing closure of the Gaza Strip needs to end, along with the impunity that fuels ongoing serious abuses.”

Claims that Hamas prepares for another round of fighting

According to Haaretz, Israeli defense officials said that Hamas’s rocket launchers were relatively undamaged during May’s fighting

Israeli defense officials believe that Hamas is preparing for another flare-up with Israel, according to a report published in Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Monday.

Citing defense sources, the report alleged that the Palestinian organization which rules Gaza had begun manufacturing rockets again on a small scale, despite sustaining major blows to its operations during the 11-day war with Israel in May.

As a result of the war, Israeli strikes killed over 250 Palestinians, including 66 children, while in Israel, rockets from Gaza killed at least 13 people, including two children.

The Gaza Ministry of Health reported that more than 1,900 Palestinians were injured; Israel reported at least 200 casualties.

Israeli defense officials assessed that Hamas had an array of rockets that would be enough for another round of fighting as its rocket launchers were relatively undamaged during May’s fighting. However, they said “civilian pressure” would be the key factor in whether any further attacks were launched.

The spark for fighting in May was repeated violent incursions into the al-Aqsa Mosque complex by Israeli forces, and attacks on Palestinians in occupied east Jerusalem.

Haaretz also reported that according to defense and police sources, Israel “refrained” from heavy fire during protests that broke out along Gaza’s border with Israel this Saturday.

Demonstrations were organized this weekend along Gaza’s 65km frontier with Israel to mark the 52nd anniversary of the attempted burning of the al-Aqsa mosque by a far-right activist.

Israeli snipers fired bullets at protestors, injuring more than 40 Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy who was shot in the head and remains in a critical condition.

The article claimed that Israeli forces held their fire, however, to avoid harming women and children.

“The arrival of a mass of people so close to the Israeli forces and an arm’s length from the fence is something that cannot happen,” said a security source.

Haaretz also reported that Israeli security officials were now preparing in the event of another mass demonstration of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza.