Indiscriminate Hamas rocket attacks on Israel are war crimes, Human Rights Watch says

Indiscriminate Hamas rocket attacks on Israel are war crimes, Human Rights Watch says

A leading human rights group Thursday said that rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip during the conflict with Israel in May “violated the laws of war and amount to war crimes.”

In a report published Thursday, New York-based Human Rights Watch pointed to attacks that left some 12 civilians dead in Israel and injured dozens, as well as a misfiring that killed seven Palestinians in Gaza. Israeli authorities reported more than 4,360 unguided rockets and mortars toward Israeli population centers between May 10 and May 21.

“Palestinian armed groups during the May fighting flagrantly violated the laws-of-war prohibition on indiscriminate attacks by launching thousands of unguided rockets toward Israeli cities,” Eric Goldstein, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Last month, Human Rights Watch found that Israel had violated international law during the conflict. In a report, it highlighted Israeli strikes on Gaza that “apparently amount to war crimes,” killing 62 civilians, including families, “where there were no evident military targets in the vicinity.” The group also found that other attacks were probably unlawful. More than 250 Palestinians in Gaza, among them 67 children, died in Israeli strikes.

On May 21, the sides entered into a cease-fire.

Under international humanitarian law, warring parties may attack only military targets and must take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians, Human Rights Watch said in its statement. The laws of war also prohibit indiscriminate attacks.

“Hamas is clear in its statements: it targets Israeli cities, that is, civilians. That’s a war crime. Moreover, its weapons are inherently indiscriminate: they can’t effectively be directed at military targets. Hamas rockets killed civilians almost exclusively, both inside Israel and by misfires inside the Gaza Strip,” Goldstein told The Washington Post.

On the finding that armed groups in Gaza had committed war crimes, whereas Israeli actions that killed far more civilians constituted “apparent” war crimes, Human Rights Watch said the wording was a matter of legal distinction.

"A war crime requires criminal intent: deliberateness or recklessness,” Goldstein said. “Unlike Hamas, Israel claims it targets only military objects; it should furnish evidence of what the intended targets were in these attacks that devastated civilian life and property.”

He added that the International Criminal Court should investigate apparently unlawful attacks by Israel, along with the rocket attacks from Gaza.

Both Human Rights Watch reports could be used as part of an ongoing investigation by the International Criminal Court of violations by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups. The court in February ruled that it has jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories that Israel occupied in 1967, a claim Israel rejects.

Both Palestinian and Israel authorities have a track record of failing to investigate alleged war crimes, according to Human Rights Watch.

Miriam Berger in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

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