The Israel Defense Forces violated the laws of war during Operation Pillar of Defense, NGO Human Rights Watch claimed in a scathing report published Tuesday.
“Israeli forces too often conducted airstrikes that killed Palestinian civilians and destroyed homes in Gaza without apparent legal justification,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
The report claimed that at least 18 airstrikes during the fighting in Gaza were in violation of international law. Fourteen strikes were allegedly made with "no indication of a legitimate military target" and four others used "indiscriminate means or caused disproportionate harm to civilians."
Recognizing that terrorists launched hundreds of rockets indiscriminately into Israeli populations centers, the New York-based NGO said Palestinian violations do not exonerate the IDF from compliance with international law.
Responding to the report, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit stated that it had set up its own internal investigation, led by a brigadier general, to examine allegations of improprieties. With Human Rights Watch declining to wait for publication of the findings, the IDF accused the NGO of promulgating "one-sided allegations that have yet to be properly examined."
Human Rights Watch has often come under attack from Israel supporters for being anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. The organization itself has, on occasion, acknowledged problems in its reporting.
Human Rights Watch acknowledged in a May 3, 2002 report that there was no evidence of a massacre of Palestinian civilians in Jenin earlier in 2002, contrary to its prior reports, and that Palestinian gunmen had contributed to endangering Palestinian civilians.
In September 2009, the group suspended a senior researcher who frequently criticized Israeli military actions when it became aware that the researcher collected Nazi memorabilia.
The head of the organization, Kenneth Roth was quoted as saying that Iranian statements against Israel do not amount to incitement. Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, have slammed the group for harboring an anti-Israel bias.
Jordana Horn contributed to this report