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HRW: Israel airstrikes in Gaza violated laws of war, killed civilians

Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said Tuesday that Israel violated of the laws of war [press release] with at least 18 airstrikes launched during the November 2012 fighting in Gaza [JURIST news archive]. HRW stated that the airstrikes killed at least 43 Palestinian civilians, including 12 children. The laws of war provide that only military objectives, those which make an effective contribution to military action, may be targeted. HRW field investigations found 14 strike sites lacked indication of containing a legitimate military target at the time of the attack. In four strikes, although the attacks may have targeted Palestinian fighters, they appeared to cause disproportionate civilian harm. HRW stated the attack resulting in the most civilian deaths was the November 18 bombing of a family home which killed 12 civilians, and the HRW claims that even if the home contained a valid military target that the attack caused disproportionate loss of civilian life and property. Several missiles and a bomb struck civilians and civilian homes and other property without apparent military objective. The HRW said "[w]hatever the weapon used and the conduct of the other side, the laws of war are applicable and parties to the conflict are obliged to respect them."

The recent conflict in Gaza [JURIST op-ed] has raised concern of possible human rights violations committed by Israel. HRW last Friday accused [JURIST report] the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) [official website] of war crimes after a November aerial bombing raid killed 12 civilians in Gaza. Earlier last week UN Special Rapporteur Richard Flak called on Israel [JURIST report] to fully implement and continue to support the recent conflict-ending ceasefire agreement with Palestinians in Gaza. In November UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay pressured [JURIST report] Israel to avoid strikes on civilian structures in Gaza. Pillay expressed acute concern over the surge in the number of Palestinian civilians killed and injured as a result of Israeli military action and suggested that allegations of war crimes would depend on the circumstances of each particular attack.

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