Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes by indiscriminately firing rockets at civilians in Israel during the conflict between Israel and Hamas last summer, Amnesty International alleges in a report to be published on Thursday.
This is the first report by the London-based human rights group that specifically focuses on Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza.
“Palestinian armed groups, including the armed wing of Hamas, repeatedly launched unlawful attacks during the conflict, killing six and injuring civilians,” said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
“In launching these attacks, they displayed a flagrant disregard for international humanitarian law and for the consequences of their violations on civilians in both Israel and the Gaza Strip,” Luther said.
The 63-page report entitled, “Unlawful and Deadly: rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict,” is the third in a series of reports on the war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge. The first two focused on Israeli military action in Gaza and a fourth upcoming report will look at summary killings by Hamas in Gaza.
The Amnesty report generally confirms Israeli allegations that Palestinians had fired many rockets from civilian areas, although it could not confirm such a charge in every situation it investigated.
Still, it said that general evidence showed that rocket launchings from civilians areas were “far from isolated incidents.”
“There are credible reports that, in certain cases, Palestinian armed groups launched rockets or mortars from within civilian facilities or compounds, including schools, at least one hospital, and a Greek Orthodox church in Gaza City,” the report says.
“In at least two cases, accounts indicate that attacks were launched in spite of the fact that displaced Gazan civilians were sheltering in the compounds or in neighboring buildings,” the report said.
It quoted one resident of the al-Karama neighborhood in Gaza City, who described rocket launchings near homes on July 21. “That day, while I was resting, two Kassam rockets were fired from the right and left of the house, at the same time that the missiles from the plane hit us.”
The report specifically points out that the 13 civilians who were killed on July 28th in the Shati refugee camp were likely killed by a Palestinian rocket misfiring, based on testimony from an independent munitions expert.
“The blast crater was too shallow to have been caused by an artillery or mortar shell or a missile fired by a drone, and its circumference was too wide to have been caused by a tank shell,” the report said.
In its report, Amnesty also spoke at length of the impact of the rockets on Israel and looked at the deaths of the six Israeli civilians killed during the war. It also mentioned that 66 IDF soldiers were killed.
“The majority of Israel’s 8.3 million people, and all 2.8 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, are now within range of at least some of the rockets held by Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip,” the report said.
All the Hamas rockets are unguided projectiles, which cannot be accurately aimed and can strike from three to six kilometers away from their intended targets. Some of these rockets had a range of up to 160 kilometers, it added.
In the weeks leading up to the war, at least 250 rockets and dozens of mortars were fired at Israel, the report noted.
Palestinian armed groups fired 4,881 rockets and 1,753 mortars at Israel between July 8 and August 26, 2014, according to the report. At least 243 were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, while another 31 fell short and landed within the Gaza Strip, according to the report.
However, Amnesty concluded that the Palestinian attacks did not justify Israel’s response.
“The devastating impact of Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians during the conflict is undeniable, but violations by one side in a conflict can never justify violations by their opponents,” said Luther.
“The fact that Palestinian armed groups appear to have carried out war crimes by firing indiscriminate rockets and mortars does not absolve the Israeli forces from their obligations under international humanitarian law,” he said.
Amnesty has called on the International Criminal Court to prosecute both Israelis and Palestinians for their actions during the summer and requested the international community to halt arms shipments to both.
The Israeli Embassy in London said in response to the report that it welcomes “the highlighting of Hamas’s war crimes, including the deliberate targeting of Israel’s civilian population by thousands of rockets and mortars.”
It added, “Unlike Hamas, Israel is vigorously investigating its conduct, aiming to draw lessons and minimize civilian harm. Meanwhile, Hamas continues to incite terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, boast of building new cross-border assault tunnels, and test-fires rockets, in preparation for further violence against Israelis.”