[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Friday accused the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) [official website] of war crimes after a November aerial bombing raid killed 12 civilians in Gaza [JURIST news archive]. According to HRW, the IDF planned and authorized the attack in pursuit of Mohamed Jamal al-Dalu, a suspected Hamas “terror operative” and low-ranking police officer. HRW claims [press release] that even if the decedent al-Dalu was a lawful military target, an aerial bombing of a densely populated civilian area for an “insignificant” target is a violation of proportionality principles protecting civilians pursuant to international humanitarian law [IHL text; ICRC backgrounder]. HRW elaborated:
Under the laws of war, the expected military gain from an attack must outweigh the anticipated military gain. … Disproportionate attacks are serious violations which Israel has an obligation to investigate. Victims of laws of war violations and their families should be promptly and adequately compensated. Anyone responsible for deliberately or recklessly committing a serious violation of the laws of war should be prosecuted for war crimes … [and] Israel has not provided any information to support the claim that Mohamed al-Dalu was directly participating in hostilities.
Sources have reportedly informed HRW that al-Dalu’s police unit was “purely a ‘civilian department,'” and his family also stated that, to their knowledge, he was not a member of any Palestinian terror group. However, sources from the IDF have asserted that al-Dalu was a “known terror operative affiliated with the military wing of Hamas.” Further, the IDF has claimed [Reuters report] that military targets are thoroughly investigated before action is taken to ensure that collateral civilian deaths and injuries do not occur. According to HRW, 103 Palestinian civilians and four Israeli civilians were killed in Gaza during armed conflict in November.
The recent conflict in Gaza [JURIST op-ed] has raised concern of possible human rights violations committed by Israel. Earlier this 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. Also last month Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi announced that peace talks were progressing toward a ceasefire in the recent escalation of violence in the area and reported that an agreement is close at hand. The ceasefire discussions between Morsi, the Quatari emir, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal came a day after Pillay urged [JURIST report] a cessation of the continued indiscriminate attacks and targeting of civilians.