IDF doubts credibility of Gaza report

Says HRW's findings of drone misuse leading to civilian deaths based on "unreliable sources."

gaza bombing iaf (photo credit: AP [file])
gaza bombing iaf
(photo credit: AP [file])
The IDF questioned the validity of a Human Rights Watch report released on Tuesday that says Israeli drone attacks killed innocent Palestinian civilians during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip earlier this year. The 39-page report, "Precisely Wrong: Gaza Civilians Killed by Israeli Drone-Launched Missiles," detailed six incidents resulting in 29 civilian deaths, among them eight children, and concluded that the IDF failed to take all feasible precautions to verify that these targets were combatants, as required by the laws of war, or that it failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians. Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst with HRW, charged that IDF drone operators had fired before making sure their targets were actual threats. He called drones the most precise weapons available. "We should not find so many civilian casualties from these incidents," he said. "When used properly, drones and their precision missiles can help a military minimize civilian casualties," Garlasco said. "But drones are only as good at sparing civilians as the people who command and operate them." In the six cases documented in the report, Human Rights Watch said it found no evidence that Palestinian fighters were present in the immediate area of the attack at the time. In three of the cases, drones fired missiles at children playing on rooftops in residential neighborhoods, far from any ground fighting, the report said. Human Rights Watch said it found no evidence to suggest that the children were acting as spotters, relaying IDF troop locations, or trying to fire a rocket from the roof. Foreign media have reported over the years that the Hermes 450 long-range unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), developed by Elbit Systems Ltd., was used by the Israel Air Force in targeted killings in the Gaza Strip. Reports that surfaced after Operation Cast Lead claimed that the Hermes 450 was also used in the alleged Israeli strike on a weapons convoy in the Sudanese desert on its way to Gaza in January. The IDF said the report appeared to be based on "unnamed and unreliable Palestinian sources" whose military expertise was "unproven." "It's strange that despite the great efforts that the IDF made to avoid harming civilians, the organization decided to ignore these statistics and to base the information it presented on Palestinian testimonies," the army said. The IDF said that all of its operations, including Cast Lead, were conducted in line with international law. "The IDF only uses weaponry and ammunition that are legal according to rules of warfare," the military statement said. In reference to the use of UAVs, the army said it used an assortment of technologies, combat methods and advanced platforms to minimize the risk to innocent Palestinians. "This was done in a fight against terrorists who operated intentionally from within densely-populated civilian areas and used civilians as human shields," the IDF said of Hamas. In its response, the IDF referred to the internal probes it conducted and released several months ago that were launched after allegations were presented to the military by a number of NGOs, including HRW, as well as by the international media. "The conclusion of these probes was that the IDF operated in Gaza in accordance with international law, while maintaining a high professional and ethical level," the statement said. "In all of the cases that were probed, the conclusions were that the IDF did not intentionally attack innocent civilians." In cases where IDF operations led to the loss of civilian lives, the army said it was not intentional, but a "regretful result of the circumstances that were not under the control of the military forces, or the result of unexpected operational mistakes." AP contributed to this report.