The human rights organization B'tselem has warned it will petition the High Court of Justice if the state refuses to investigate six targeted killing incidents in which a total of 35 civilians were accidentally killed by Israel Air Force warplanes seeking to target terrorists. The state has already agreed to establish a committee to investigate the targeted assassination of Hamas military leader Saleh Shehadeh in Gaza City on July 22, 2002. However, it has rejected B'tselem's demands to either have the Military Advocate-General order a criminal investigation of six other targeted assassinations to be conducted by the military police, or to establish an examination committee along the lines of the one due to investigate the Shehadeh assassination. The six incidents referred to by B'tselem include the following:
June 13, 2006 - Gaza City: An Israeli plane fired a missile at a car in a residential neighborhood in which members of an Islamic Jihad cell were traveling on their way to fire a Grad missile at Israel. One passenger was killed. As a result of the explosion, rescue workers and passersby rushed to the car to extricate the others. At that point, two more missiles were fired, killing 10 civilians.
July 12, 2006 - Gaza City: An Israeli warplane bombed a residential building, killing Nabil and Slava Abu Sleima and seven of their children, aged four to 17. The IDF said that Muhammad Deif, a senior Hamas commander, was hiding in the building when it was hit.
May 20, 2007 - Gaza City: The IAF fired a missile at a residential neighborhood, killing eight people. The army said it had targeted one of the victims, who was a member of Hamas.
In a letter written several months ago, Nitzan Chen, deputy state attorney and head of the Special Tasks Division, said, "We do not believe it is our duty to establish a committee of examination which will look into every incident over and above the examination of the Military Advocate-General."
In a High Court decision handed down on December 13, 2006, then-Supreme Court president Aharon Barak wrote that in carrying out targeted assassinations it was legal to kill terrorists even if they were not participating at that moment in terrorist activities, on condition that the harm caused to innocent civilians in the vicinity of the attack was proportional. He wrote that the determination of whether a given attack was proportional was "based on a value-based test, intended to balance between the military advantage and the civilian damage."
Barak added that each incident must be judged on its own merits according to these criteria. This could only be done retroactively by "an objective, retrospective committee."
In the case of Shehadeh's assassination - in which not only the senior Hamas terrorist but also his wife, his aide and 14 civilians, including eight children, were killed - the prosecution informed the High Court that it agreed to establish a committee of examination to investigate the incident. Later, it was reported that several ministers had opposed the state's promise.
On Sunday, the Hebrew press reported that the government was preparing the groundwork to establish such a committee to address targeted assassinations. However, the state has made it clear it would not re-open any case that occurred before Barak's decision.