Deadly rocket and mortar fire on Israeli towns by Palestinian terror groups during May’s conflict in Gaza constituted war crimes, Human Rights Watch charged Thursday.
The New York-based rights group analyzed attacks from Gaza that resulted in the deaths of 13 people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, and injuries to dozens more.
Rockets that misfired or fell short also killed or wounded “an undetermined number of Palestinians in Gaza,” the group said. Of the over 4,360 unguided rockets and mortar shells fired toward Israeli population centers between May 10 and 21, approximately 680 failed and fell short in the Gaza Strip, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
Israel, in response to the rocket attacks, launched extensive airstrikes in the enclave, killing nearly 250 Palestinians, of whom the IDF said some 200 were combatants. Human Rights Watch has also accused Israel of war crimes in the conflict.
“Palestinian armed groups during the May fighting flagrantly violated the laws-of-war prohibition on indiscriminate attacks by launching thousands of unguided rockets towards Israeli cities,” said Eric Goldstein, acting director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division.
HRW said it determined that at least one rocket launched by terror groups killed seven people and injured 15 in Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip on May 10.
The group said it based its finding on witness interviews, site visits, an inspection of rocket remnants, and a review of video footage.
“The rocket, launched at around 6 p.m. on May 10, landed in Martyr Saleh Dardona Street, about 20 meters from the Omari Mosque, in Jabayla. Three adults and one child who were on the street at the time said they saw a rocket rise into the sky above them and then fall to the street. Two of the adults said they saw the rocket coming from the northwest. A fourth person heard the sound of a rocket being launched and saw it strike in front of his shop,” HRW said in its report.
The deadly rocket and five others were launched from a shopping and residential area one kilometer away, witnesses said. All six were said to have impacted the same area in northern Gaza.
Shrapnel from the rocket was examined by HRW, which said, “The remnants indicate that the weapons used were rockets similar in size and payload to Grad-type unguided artillery rockets. The size and scale of the blast and fragmentation damage to walls near the scene was consistent with the detonation of this type of munition.”
Hamas has not provided any information on how many rockets fell short of the border with Israel, nor on how many Palestinian civilians were struck as a result. HRW said there were no precise independent estimates.
The report came a day after the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA condemned “the existence and potential use by Palestinian armed groups” of tunnels under its schools in Gaza, saying they placed pupils and staff “at risk.”
The agency issued its statement following a demand by Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan that the agency’s funding be frozen after the Kan public broadcaster reported Hamas blocked UN inspectors from inspecting a tunnel near a school it operates.
HRW has previously accused Israel of war crimes as well, for strikes that killed civilians in places it said there were “no evident military targets in the vicinity” during the conflict that ended with a May 21 ceasefire.
The IDF has said it only targets sites used by Gaza-based terror groups.
In Thursday’s report, the rights group cited statements by Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers and other terror groups announcing barrages of rockets at Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities
After one such statement, shrapnel from a rocket killed a 63-year-old Israeli woman south of Tel Aviv. Another rocket killed a father and his teenage daughter in Lod, a city about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Tel Aviv.
“Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, warring parties may only attack military objectives,” Human Rights Watch said, adding that “launching such rockets to attack civilian areas is a war crime.”
The group suggested that the International Criminal Court, which is investigating allegations of Israeli war crimes, also address “unlawful Palestinian rocket attacks against Israel, as well as unlawful Israeli attacks in Gaza.”
In April, HRW accused Israel of committing the crime of “apartheid” by seeking to maintain Jewish “domination” over Palestinians and its own Arab population, an allegation Israel firmly rejected.