Israel-Gaza conflict: Apparent war crimes committed, says rights group

image copyrightReutersimage captionHRW says it investigated three Israeli attacks, including one in Gaza City on 16 May

Israeli forces and Palestinian militant groups carried out attacks during May's Gaza conflict that apparently amount to war crimes, Human Rights Watch says.

An investigation by the campaign group into what it says were three Israeli strikes that killed 62 civilians found no evidence of military targets nearby.

The Israeli military says it only struck military targets in Gaza.

The report also says the 4,300 rockets militants fired at Israel constituted indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

At least 260 people were killed in Gaza and 13 people were killed in Israel during the 11 days of fighting.

The UN said at least 129 of those killed in Gaza were civilians. The Israeli military said 200 were militants, while the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, acknowledged the deaths of 80 fighters.

Human Rights Watch's investigation focused on what it says were three Israeli attacks that resulted in high numbers of civilian casualties:

  • Beit Hanoun, 10 May: The report says an Israeli guided missile struck near four houses, killing eight civilians. The Israeli military says the explosion was caused by a Palestinian rocket
  • Shati refugee camp, 15 May: A guided bomb destroyed a three-storey building, killing 10 civilians, according to the report. The Israeli military said at the time that senior Hamas officials were inside. Witnesses said they were not aware of the presence of any militants
  • Gaza City, 16 May: The report says a series of air strikes along al-Wahda Street caused three multi-storey buildings to collapse, killing 44 civilians. The Israeli military said it targeted tunnels used by militants and that the collapses were unintentional

The report says "there were no evident military targets in the vicinity" of the three sites, and that "an attack that is not directed at a specific military objective is unlawful".

All feasible precautions must also be taken to minimise harm to civilians, including by providing effective advance warnings of attacks, the rights group adds.

An Israeli military spokesperson was quoted by the report as saying that it "strikes military targets exclusively" and "makes concerted efforts to reduce harm to uninvolved individuals".

When possible, they added, the military "provided civilians located within military targets with prior warning".

On Tuesday, the Israeli military told AFP news agency that Human Rights Watch "was choosing to recycle previously refuted allegations instead of condemning violations of international law by Hamas and other terrorist organisations, who are carrying out military operations from areas containing homes, mosques, schools and hospitals".

Human Rights Watch says Palestinian militants violated the prohibition against deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians by firing unguided rockets towards Israeli cities and towns. It will release a separate report on the rocket attacks next month.

Hamas responded by saying it "tried to avoid targeting civilians despite the massacres committed by the Israeli occupation".

media captionThe precarious life of a Gaza fisherman

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