JERUSALEM: Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip “violated the laws of war” by firing rockets at populated areas in Israel during an eight-day flare up last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday.
Citing Israeli army figures, HRW said that approximately “1,500 rockets were fired at Israel between November 14 and 21,” of which “at least 800 struck Israel, including 60 that hit populated areas.”
These attacks “killed three Israeli civilians, wounded at least 38, several seriously, and destroyed civilian property,” HRW said, noting that there were also rockets fired from Gaza “that fell short of their intended targets in Israel apparently killed at least two Palestinians”.
“Palestinian armed groups made clear in their statements that harming civilians was their aim,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“There is simply no legal justification for launching rockets at populated areas.”
The HRW said that under the laws of war, “civilians and civilian structures may not be subject to deliberate attacks or attacks that do not discriminate between civilians and military targets.”
The organisation also noted that Gaza militants “repeatedly fired rockets from densely populated areas, near homes, businesses, and a hotel, unnecessarily placing civilians in the vicinity at grave risk from Israeli counter-fire”.
HRW also rejected claims by the armed wings of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Popular Resistance Committee that their targeting of Israeli civilians was a legitimate “reprisal for Israeli attacks that killed civilians in Gaza”.
“The laws of war prohibit reprisal attacks against civilians, regardless of unlawful attacks by the other side,” it said.
“Statements by armed groups that they deliberately targeted an Israeli city or Israeli civilians are demonstrating their intent to commit war crimes.”
HRW called on Gaza-rulers Hamas to “uphold the laws of war and appropriately punish those responsible for serious violations”.
Over the course of the eight-day battle between Israel and Gaza militants, 177 Palestinians – more than half of them civilians – were killed by Israeli air strikes.
Six Israelis – four of them civilians including one defence ministry employee – and two soldiers were killed by rocket and mortar fire from Gaza.