Israel should end unlawful attacks that do not target military objectives and may be intended as collective punishment, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on Wednesday.
After investigating Israeli airstrike, HRW said, attacks “have been targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war.”
It is so far estimated that 710 housing units have been “totally destroyed” and some 660 “severely damaged” in attacks and bombardments, a United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report said Tuesday.
This has resulted in “a large number of civilian casualties” and in “directly displacing approximately 8,200 persons who are being hosted by relatives and neighbours”.
Israel has defended the targeting of homes, saying that Hamas uses “houses as command centres” and that it “operates from within densely populated areas.”
HRW Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson was cited in the statement as saying, “Israel’s rhetoric is all about precision attacks but attacks with no military target and many civilian deaths can hardly be considered precise.”
She added: “Recent documented cases in Gaza sadly fit Israel’s long record of unlawful airstrikes with high civilian casualties.”
HRW has investigated four strikes in the ongoing Israeli military operation, “that resulted in civilian casualties and either did not attack a legitimate military target or attacked despite the likelihood of civilian casualties being disproportionate to the military gain.”
The watchdog said whether committed deliberately or recklessly, attacks of this sort “constitute war crimes”. In the cases investigated, the watchdog said the Israeli military has presented “no information to show that it was attacking lawful military objectives or acted to minimize civilian casualties.”
The report states that Israel delivered “more than 500 tons of explosives in missiles, aerial bombs, and artillery fire” since the beginning of the military operation on 7 July. Israel said it launched the military operation in order to “stop Hamas rocket fire at Israel.” The IDF said that since 8 July, Hamas has fired nearly 1, 250 rockets into its territory. Israel has hit over 1,100 targets inside the strip.
The HRW report also states: “Palestinian armed groups also should end indiscriminate rocket attacks launched toward Israeli population centres.”
The OCHA report said indiscriminate rocket firing has raised “increasing concern as it endangers the lives of Palestinian civilians residing in these areas, in addition to the Israeli population targeted”.
HRW called on the UN Human Rights Council to hold a “special session to address violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.”
It stated, “Neither Israeli nor Palestinian authorities have ever taken serious action to investigate alleged war crimes by members of their forces in previous armed conflicts,” HRW stated.
The total Palestinian death toll since the start of the Israeli operation reached 208 with 1,550 injured on Wednesday afternoon, according to Gaza health officials. The OCHA report said nearly 75% of Palestinian deaths are civilian, totalling 149 civilians by Tuesday afternoon, of which at least 38 are children and 28 are women.
On the Israeli side, the first fatality occurred when one civilian died from a mortar fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) announced Tuesday. Israel’s emergency and disaster service, Magen David Adom, said it has treated 302 civilians as of Wednesday afternoon.
Throughout the week, Israel has been sending leaflets and messages to residents of northern Gaza warning them to evacuate. The campaign also said that anyone who does not comply will be putting their lives, as well as those of their families, at great risk. The Israeli military says northern Gaza is the source of most long-range rockets fired into Israel.
Following these warnings, more than 18,000 Gazans left their homes and are seeking shelter in 21 UNRWA schools.
Children in the Gaza Strip are “not eating or sleeping” and are “exhibiting harrowing signs of mental distress,” the OCHA report cited UNICEF staff in Gaza as saying. At least 25,000 children inside the strip are in need of specialised psychosocial support after their families experienced death, injuries and loss of homes, the OCHA report said.
The report added 79 schools and 23 health facilities have sustained damaged. It stated that the “damage to health, education, water and sanitation facilities, and electricity infrastructure make it increasingly difficult to provide even the most basic services for the civilian population…” The crisis is worsened “by the high degree of pre-existing vulnerability in the Gaza Strip, with high unemployment and the lack of a viable economy,” it added.
Gaza which is home to 1.8 million people has been under siege since 2007, when Hamas seized control of the densely populated strip. The siege was tightened throughout the past year when Egyptian authorities who took charge after the July, 2013 power shift decided to keep the Rafah border crossing mostly shut and to crackdown on the illegal tunnelling activity beneath the Egypt-Gaza border.
Both Egypt and Israel said they have allowed goods into Gaza. Egypt said Egyptian aid was allowed into the strip on Tuesday, state-run MENA reported. The shipment included 135 tons of food supplies, 4.5 tons of milk and 12 tons of medical supplies.
While the IDF said Tuesday that 71 trucks of food and general supplies, 151 tons of gas and around 600,000 litres of fuel were permitted into the strip through the Kerem Shalom border crossing.