Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel’s civilian population have no lawful justification and are a war crime, Human Rights Watch said in a scathing report published on Monday, assigning Hamas blame for civilian deaths in Israel and Gaza during last month’s Operation Pillar of Defense.
“Palestinian armed groups made clear in their statements that harming civilians was their aim,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “There is simply no legal justification for launching rockets at populated areas.”
The report quoted Israel Defense Forces figures that showed about 1,500 rockets were fired at Israel between November 14 and November 21, during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense against Hamas, which was launched to stem a rising tide of missile attacks on Israel’s south.
At least 800 of the rockets struck Israel, 60 of them in populated areas. Three Israeli civilians were killed and 38 seriously injured during the fighting, HRW said. (Israel has put its death toll at six: four civilians and two soldiers.) A large number of rockets were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense system
‘As the ruling authority in Gaza, Hamas has an obligation to stop unlawful attacks and punish those responsible’
Rockets that fell short of their intended targets in Israel apparently killed at least two Palestinians in Gaza and wounded others, HRW said. In one incident on November 16, a rocket that appeared to have been launched from within Gaza hit a crowded street in Jabalya in the coastal enclave, killing a man, 23, and a boy, 4, and wounding five people.
“A limited military arsenal that relies on largely indiscriminate rockets does not justify a failure to respect the laws of war, which apply to all sides in a conflict whatever their capabilities,” Whitson said. “As the ruling authority in Gaza, Hamas has an obligation to stop unlawful attacks and punish those responsible.”
The report comes a week after an HRW paper pounded Israel for journalists’ deaths in Gaza during the conflict.
On Monday, HRW also blasted terrorists for putting Gaza residents in the line of fire. The non-government organization’s research in Gaza found that armed groups 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.
The report noted that HRW has not been able to identify any instances in November in which a Palestinian armed group warned civilians to evacuate an area before a rocket launch.
In war, the group said, parties to an armed conflict are required to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians under their control from the effects of attacks and not to place military targets in or near densely populated areas.
The report also nixed the Palestinian claim that the rocket fire was justified as a reprisal to Palestinian deaths in Gaza.
“The laws of war prohibit reprisal attacks against civilians, regardless of unlawful attacks by the other side,” HRW said. “Statements by armed groups that they deliberately targeted an Israeli city or Israeli civilians are demonstrating their intent to commit war crimes.”
The group called on Hamas to prosecute those responsible for firing the rockets, writing that “Hamas, the ruling authority in Gaza, is obligated to uphold the laws of war and should appropriately punish those responsible for serious violations.”
Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, dismissed the report’s findings. Spokesperson Abu Obeidah added that “we tried to injure soldiers in their bases. The Zionist enemy hides this and claims that we tried to harm civilians.