Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that both Israel and Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas “apparently” committed “war crimes” during a May conflict, calling for the incidents to be probed as part of ongoing international investigations.
The 11-day conflict saw Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza fire thousands of rockets towards Israel, which pounded the strip with hundreds of air strikes.
In a report released Tuesday, HRW said it had investigated three Israeli attacks that “killed 62 Palestinian civilians where there were no evident military targets in the vicinity,” interviewing Palestinians in Gaza and analyzing data from the sites and digital imagery.
It listed a May 10 strike in Beit Hanoun, one on May 15 at the Al-Shati refugee camp and a series of air strikes on May 16 in Gaza City as the focus of its investigation, but noted “other Israeli attacks during the conflict were also likely unlawful.”
The rights group also noted the “indiscriminate” rocket attacks by Palestinian militants that targeted Israeli civilians, which HRW said would be addressed in a forthcoming report.
The Israeli and Palestinian attacks “violated the laws of war and apparently amount to war crimes,” HRW said.
The prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in March announced the opening of a full investigation into the situation in the Israeli-occupied territories.
That probe will mainly focus on the 2014 Gaza War but also look at the deaths of Palestinian demonstrators from 2018 onwards.
But the ICC said in May that it was also monitoring the latest conflict as part of its investigation.
“Israeli authorities’ consistent unwillingness to seriously investigate alleged war crimes, as well as Palestinian forces’ rocket attacks towards Israeli population centers, underscores the importance of the International Criminal Court’s inquiry,” HRW said.
In a separate international probe, the UN Human Rights Council decided on May 27 to create an open-ended international investigation into violations during the May conflict.
There was no immediate response from the Israeli army, which was quoted in the HRW report as saying it “strikes military targets exclusively” and “makes concerted efforts to reduce harm to uninvolved individuals.”
When possible, the army “provided civilians located within military targets with prior warning,” while it was investigating a number of attacks to determine if its rules were breached, HRW cited the Israeli military as saying.
The conflict killed 260 Palestinians including some fighters, according to Gaza authorities.
In Israel, 13 people were killed, including a soldier, by rockets and other munitions fired from Gaza, the police and army said.