Human rights organizations: 'IDF playing Russian roulette in Gaza'

Six Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations on Sunday petitioned the High Court of Justice to instruct the army to cancel an order reducing the "safety margin" for IDF artillery and tank gunners from 300 meters to 100 meters from civilian targets in the Gaza Strip. Attorney Michael Sfard, who is representing the petitioners, asked the court for an immediate hearing to prevent any more Palestinian casualties due to the army's new policy, which was allegedly introduced to stop Kassam attacks by Palestinian terrorists against targets inside Israel. However, Supreme Court Justice Asher Grunis gave the state a week to reply and did not set a time for the court hearing despite the petitioners' request. In the petition, Sfard charged that "the army is playing Russian roulette with the lives of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip by deliberately including them within the firing range. The question of whether civilians, including entire families, will be harmed depends on variables over which the army has no control." The petitioners include Physicians for Human Rights, B'Tselem, The Gaza Community Mental Health Program, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights. The decision to reduce the safety range was first reported in the press and was not refuted by the army, Sfard charged. He wrote that the fallout from ricochets and bomb fragments is 100 meters from the spot where a shell falls and that the normal "range of error" from a planned target is at least 20 meters. The change in the safety range from 300 to 100 meters caused last week's bombing of a Gaza Strip home which killed seven-year-old Hadil Ghaban and wounded 12 members of her family, Sfard charged. He added that dozens of shells had fallen close to Palestinian homes during recent IDF bombardments. According to Sfard, the army's policy violates international humanitarian law, which calls on it to make a clear distinction between fighters and civilians, to keep its response to an attack within proper proportions, and to use force with caution.