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Israel violated ‘laws of war’ in Gaza, says Human Rights Watch

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Human Rights Watch said Israeli airstrikes during the most recent Gaza Strip conflict last November "violated the laws of war."

Field investigations, which the group said were not comprehensive, found 14 instances in which Israeli unmanned drones or fixed wing aircraft hit areas "with no indication of a legitimate military target," and another four in which there were identifiable military targets but which "appeared to use indiscriminate means or caused disproportionate harm to civilians," according to the report. The airstrikes killed at least 43 Palestinian civilians, including 12 children, HRW said.

Israel Radio quoted the Israel Defense Forces as saying it was investigating its attacks during Operation Pillar of Defense, the Nov. 14-21, 2012 conflict that was precipitated by an intensification of Hamas rocket fire on southern Israel communities.

Human Rights Watch said it was releasing its findings now because past such investigations "were not conducted by trained military police investigators or dedicated to investigating alleged laws-of-war violation."

The group pointed out that it had previously reported that "Palestinian armed groups launched hundreds of inherently indiscriminate rockets against Israeli population centers in violation of the laws of war."

In releasing its annual global report on Thursday, HRW also supported recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state at the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

“Israeli and Palestinian authorities have committed serious rights abuses, and their allies and supporters have failed to press hard enough for change,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. “In the coming year, leaders in the region and beyond should work much harder to end the cycle of impunity and abuse, not least by supporting, instead of trying to block, Palestinian access to the International Criminal Court.”

The ICC is reportedly weighing whether to recognize Palestine as an independent state after the United Nations General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of non-member observer state last October. 

HRW’s annual report also documented abuses in Egypt, Syria, Iran and Lebanon. In Syria, HRW said tens of thousands of people have been subjected to arrests and torture since the civil war in the county broke out two years ago.

The report also criticized Iran for cracking down on opposition groups and leaders ahead of parliamentary elections. The Islamic Republic had barred more than 2,000 candidates on "ill-defined criteria," the report said.

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