IDF Operation Cast Lead.
(photo credit: AP)
An international human rights group on Thursday disputed Hamas'
claim that it did not target civilians during last year's war against
Israel, saying there was strong evidence the Islamist group
intentionally aimed its rockets at Israeli towns.
The criticism from New York-based Human Rights Watch drew fresh attention to Hamas
actions in the three-week war, during which about 1,400 Palestinians —
most of them civilians — and 13 Israelis were killed. Most
international criticism, including by Human Rights Watch, has been
directed toward Israel.
Both Israel and Hamas
face a Feb. 5 deadline to respond to allegations in a UN report that
they committed war crimes during the fighting. The report urged both
sides to conduct independent investigations into the allegations, and
both have signaled they will not comply, though they have not delivered
In an internal Hamas
document obtained by The Associated Press, Hamas
said that its rocket and mortar fire was directed solely at military
targets and that any civilian casualties were accidental.
Palestinian terrorists fired some 800 rockets and mortar shells into Israel during
the conflict, killing three civilians and wounding about 80. More than
800 others sustained minor injuries.
"Most of the rocket attacks
on Israel hit civilian areas, which suggests that civilians were the
target," said Bill van Esveld, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.
"Deliberately targeting civilians is a war crime."
Van Esveld added that statements from Hamas
leaders during the fighting made clear that they intended to harm Israeli civilians.
He said Hamas
also committed war crimes by firing rockets from populated areas, which
endangered the local population in Gaza by raising the likelihood of
"Fighters intentionally fired rockets from near civilians in order to shield themselves from counter attacks," he said.
Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on Dec. 27, 2008, in an attempt to halt years of Hamas
rocket fire. Around 1,400 Palestinians, including some 900 civilians,
were killed during the conflict, according to Palestinian and
international human rights groups.
The UN report, compiled by former war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone, leveled tough allegations at both Israel and Hamas
The UN General Assembly in November called on both sides to open
independent investigations into their actions, giving them until Feb. 5
Israel's formal response is expected in the coming
days. But earlier this week, Information and Diaspora affairs Minister, Yuli
Edelstein, said the government would ignore the demand for a
Israel did not cooperate with the UN
commission and rejected its findings as biased and unfounded. It says
the operation was launched in self-defense, aimed at stopping years of
almost daily rocket attacks from Gaza. Israel also says it did
everything it could to limit civilian casualties.
By rejecting calls for an independent inquiry, both Hamas
and Israel could open themselves up to international war crimes proceedings.
Thursday, Israel arrested a lead organizer of the most persistent
protests against the separation barrier in the territory. Lawyer Gaby
Lasky said the Israeli army arrested Mohammed Khatib during a night
raid in the village of Bilin.
There was no immediate comment from Israel's military.
residents have protested the barrier weekly for almost five years.
Israel considers the marches illegal, and soldiers routinely disperse
protesters with tear gas.
Israel says the barrier is necessary to
prevent suicide bombing attacks. Palestinians call it a land grab since
parts of it jut into the West Bank.