Israel’s bombing of Gaza apartment buildings could be a war crime, human rights groups warn

Gaza
Heavy smoke and fire surround Al-Sharouk tower as it collapses during an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City on May 12, 2021.

  • Israel’s deliberate leveling of apartment buildings could amount to war crimes, rights groups say.
  • “Israel has a deplorable record of carrying out unlawful attacks,” Amnesty International said.
  • These groups say Hamas rocket attacks on civilian areas in Israel could also constitute war crimes.
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Israeli airstrikes have targeted and leveled multiple apartment buildings in Gaza amid escalating violence in the region this week, and top human rights groups have warned these actions could amount to war crimes.

“Deliberate targeting of civilian objects and extensive, unjustified destruction of property are war crimes. Destroying entire multi-storey homes making tens of families homeless amounts to collective punishment of the Palestinian population and is a breach of international law,” Saleh Higazi, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

“Even if part of a building is being used for military purposes Israeli authorities have an obligation to choose means and methods of attack that would minimize risks posed to civilians and their property,” Higazi added.

Similarly, B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights group, in a tweet said, “Bombing apartment towers, which are not a military target and leaving dozens of families homeless, is a war crime.”

Israel has said it’s targeting buildings where Hamas stores weapons or has offices, and the Israeli military said it warned civilians to evacuate before the strikes.

Israel Palestine
Palestinians walk next to the remains of a destroyed 15 story building after being hit by Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021.

As the Israeli military has pummeled Gaza with airstrikes, Hamas has fired rockets toward civilian areas in Israel. Rights groups also say this can qualify as a war crime.

“Firing rockets which cannot be accurately aimed into populated areas can amount to a war crime and endangers civilian lives on both sides of the Israel/Gaza border,” Higazi said.

Higazi said the recent escalation of violence is “reminiscent of horrific hostilities from 2008, 2012, and 2014 where civilians bore the brunt of the suffering, with massive death and destruction in Gaza, which has been under an illegal blockade amounting to collective punishment since 2007.” She added that both Israeli and Palestinian forces have “carried out war crimes and other violations with impunity.”

“Israel has a deplorable record of carrying out unlawful attacks in Gaza killing and injuring civilians including war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Higazi said. “Palestinian armed groups have also committed violations of international humanitarian law with impunity.”

Human Rights Watch, which has referred to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as a form of apartheid, has also condemned Hamas for firing rockets at areas populated by civilians.

“Such attacks, which are inherently indiscriminate and endanger the lives, homes, and properties of tens of thousands of Israeli civilians, are war crimes,” Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, wrote on Tuesday. Shakir also warned that Israel’s targeting of residential buildings in Gaza, where more than 2 million Palestinians live in a relatively small strip of territory, is “likely to harm civilians.”

Human Rights Watch has documented the “regular use of excessive and vastly disproportionate force by Israeli authorities,” including “deliberately targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure,” over the past decade and even before, Shakir said.

The International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor has warned that she’s monitoring the fighting for potential war crimes, on top of continuing investigations into possible violations from previous flare-ups in the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militant groups.

As of Thursday evening, the death toll from this week’s fighting has risen to 103 Palestinians, including 27 children and 11 women, Gaza’s health ministry said, per the Associated Press. Seven Israelis have been killed, including a soldier and child.

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