The Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a rare condemnation of Gaza terrorists on Monday for war crimes – without the usual “balancing act” of blaming Israel.
HRW did not go so far as to describe “Palestinian armed groups” as terrorists, but the categorical censure of rocket launchers marks a drastic change in the attitude towards Israel and Hamas.
The condemnation also comes at a critical time for Hamas, which claims it “won” the missile war by gaining implicit diplomatic recognition to a certain extent.
“Palestinian armed groups made clear in their statements that harming civilians was their aim last month,” wrote HRW’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson. “There is simply no legal justification for launching rockets at populated areas.”
Between November 14 and 21, Gaza terrorists fired approximately 1,500 missiles at Israel, and more than half of them exploded in Israel, including 60 in populated areas. More than 40 people were either killed or wounded, not including two Gaza Arabs who were killed by their own misfired rockets, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch interviewed witnesses, victims, and relatives of people killed and injured by rocket attacks in Israel, as well as Israeli officials from two communities struck by rockets, and a spokesperson for the Israeli emergency medical services.
It “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.”
HRW names the “armed groups” as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Resistance Committees’ terrorist branches.
The terrorist organizations publicly stated they targeted Israeli civilians as acts of “revenge.”
“The laws of war prohibit reprisal attacks against civilians, regardless of unlawful attacks by the other side,” Human Rights Watch said. “Statements by armed groups that they deliberately targeted an Israeli city or Israeli civilians are demonstrating their intent to commit war crimes.”
It called on Hamas, which took over authority in Gaza in a bloody terrorist militia war with the rival Fatah group five years ago, “to uphold the laws of war” and “…appropriately punish those responsible for serious violations.”
HRW also blamed Iran, based on an Iranian military official’s statement Iran provided technical information to Gaza terrorists for building their own medium-range Fajr 5 missiles that were fired on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Iran denied having supplied the missiles to Gaza.
“Supplying weaponry to a party to a conflict knowing that it is likely to be used to commit war crimes constitutes the aiding and abetting of war crimes,“ Human Rights Watch said.
Magen David Adom told the rights group that their medics treated 38 civilians wounded by missiles, three of them severely.
A 50-year-old man in Ashkelon lost a foot that was “traumatically amputated by a rocket blast,” and a man in Ofakim was severely wounded when a rocket hit the car in which he was riding.
Human Rights Watch also blamed Gaza terrorists for firing rockets and missiles from densely populated areas.
After interviewing witnesses in Gaza, it confirmed Israeli military reports that terrorists fired rockets 300 feet from international media offices. “I saw it [the rocket] go up and heard it, and then smoke was in the office,” a witness said.
During the Pillar of Defense counterterrorist campaign, the IDF bombed the roof of the media center to knock out Hamas communications systems. Foreign media blamed Israel for attacking the media
“One man said he saw a rocket launched from the yard of a house near the Deira Hotel in central Gaza City,” HRW added.
“Under the laws of war, 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. Human Rights Watch 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.”
It also stated, “The absence of Israeli military forces in the areas where rockets hit, as well as statements by leaders of Palestinian armed groups that population centers were being targeted, indicate that the armed groups deliberately attacked Israeli civilians and civilian objects.”
Although the terrorist groups’ targetting of civilians was intended to cause major casualties, Israeli casualty figures were low in comparison to the number of missiles launched, due only to the efficacy of the Iron Dome and the construction of shelters throughout the country