Many Gaza attacks in May were unlawful, says Human Rights Watch

The organisation spoke to witnesses and surviving residents in targeted areas

A Palestinian girl on the remains of a building destroyed by  an Israeli air strike in southern Gaza

Jack Duttton writes in The National

Fighting between Israeli and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza in May, which killed four civilians for the former and 15 civilians for the latter, involved unlawful attacks on both sides, NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.

Four Israeli airstrikes last month struck targets that appeared to contain no military objective and appeared to cause disproportionate civilian loss in violation of the laws of war, the NGO said. Unguided rockets launched by Palestinian armed groups toward Israeli population centre were also unlawfully indiscriminate, it added.

“Nearly every new round of fighting in Gaza leaves civilians dead and wounded,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at HRW. “Both Israel and Palestinian armed groups are carrying out attacks with disturbing disregard for the protection of civilians.”

HRW interviewed 20 survivors or witnesses to attacks, relatives of those killed, or residents of targeted areas. The organisation also visited the sites of strikes, inspected remnants of munitions, and reviewed statements by Israeli officials and Palestinian armed groups.

Fighting broke out on May 3 when Israeli forces fired on largely unarmed Palestinian demonstrators gathered near the fences between Gaza and Israel, killing two people. Palestinian armed groups retaliated with gunfire, wounding two Israeli soldiers. Israeli forces then struck a Hamas post, killing two fighters, triggering barrages of rockets into Israel by armed Palestinian groups. The Israeli military then retaliated with a three-day aerial bombardment campaign.

The Israeli military said it struck “350 Hamas and PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] terror targets” between May 4-6, but it also targeted as many as 30 homes.

The strikes killed 25 Palestinians and injured 153 more. HRW found four May 5 airstrikes that killed 13 civilians, including two people sitting in a café, a teacher at a tutoring centre, and 10 people at their homes. The Israeli military also killed 12 Palestinian fighters, including those from Hamas and PIJ. But a group of NGOs also documented 33 residential units destroyed in Gaza, 327 people left homeless, and 700 housing units partially damaged.

Palestinian armed groups launched 690 unguided rockets toward Israeli population centres, according to the Israeli military. These strikes killed three Israelis and injured 123. An anti-tank guided missile killed a fourth. In addition, a Palestinian rocket that landed inside Gaza was most likely responsible for the deaths of a pregnant Palestinian mother of nine and a 14-month-old toddler.

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