Khalil Hamra, File / AP

Amnesty International accuses Israel of war crimes

Rights group's report one of several expected in coming months documenting Israeli and Palestinian actions in Gazan war

Amnesty International on Wednesday accused Israel of committing war crimes during its 50-day military operation in Gaza this summer, saying Israeli forces had displayed "callous indifference" in attacks on family homes in the densely populated coastal strip. Israel's government dismissed the report, the latest in a series by human rights organizations questioning Israeli tactics in Gaza.

Israel's "Operation Protective Edge" left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, the majority civilians, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials. Israel lost 66 soldiers and six civilians in the conflict. A number of human rights groups have since probed the question of war crimes in a conflict in which both sides struck civilian targets. Israeli authorities are reluctant to have their military actions under the scrutiny of international jurists, and threatened last month to abandon future talks with the Palestinian Authority should the Palestinian leadership carry out a threat to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court.  

Amnesty said in a report released Wednesday that "Israeli forces killed scores of Palestinian civilians in attacks targeting houses full of families, which in some cases have amounted to war crimes." A report by Human Rights Watch in September also accused Israel of committing war crimes in the course of its Gaza operation. 

Israel's foreign ministry rejected the report's findings, saying the London-based rights group "ignores documented war crimes perpetrated by Hamas."

"The report does not mention the word 'terror' in relation to Hamas or other armed Palestinian groups, nor mentions tunnels built by Hamas to infiltrate Israel and perpetrate terror attacks," the ministry said.

But an Amnesty representative told Al Jazeera that the human rights organization has consistently used the war crime label to condemn indiscriminate rocket fire by Palestinian armed groups. Amnesty added that abuses by Hamas or other Palestinian armed groups would be covered in a forthcoming report.

“Over the coming months Amnesty International plans to release other briefings on Israeli forces' actions in Gaza and on abuses by Palestinian armed groups,” the Amnesty representative said.

Israel launched the Gaza operation in early July after Hamas had responded with rocket fire to Israeli air strikes launched on the territory after Israeli authorities blamed the Palestinian organization for the murder of three Israeli teenagers in Hebron.

It coincided with a crackdown by Israeli forces in the West Bank, where troops arrested scores of Hamas members following the Hebron killings. 

Operation Protective Edge saw the fiercest conflict between the two sides in years.

"Israeli forces have brazenly flouted the laws of war by carrying out a series of attacks on civilian homes, displaying callous indifference to the carnage caused," said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa program.

Israel says its forces took great care to avoid civilian casualties, citing its system of providing warning to civilians that strikes on their buildings were coming when possible. But the policy of warning civilians – so called "roof knock" strikes – has come under harsh criticism from rights experts. Those attacks involve firing a low- or non-explosive missile at the roof of a targeted building to warn residents to evacuate, with more lethal ordnance fired a short time later. Residents who fail to evacuate after the initial warning are considered unavoidable "collateral damage" by the Israeli military – a flawed argument according to Eyal Weizman, a forensics analyst and director of the Forensic Architecture project at the University of London.  

“This is a gross misuse of international law," wrote Weizman. "It is illegal to fire at civilians, even if the intention is to warn them. It is ridiculous to ask them to understand, in the commotion and chaos of war, that being shot at is a warning – and it is outrageous to claim that this is undertaken to save their lives.”

The Amnesty report focused on eight cases in which targeted Israeli attacks resulted in the deaths of at least 104 civilians, including entire families and 62 children.

“The fact that, in these eight cases ... Israel has made no statement about who or what was being targeted, or even acknowledged that it carried out these particular attacks and the loss of civilian lives that they caused, is deeply worrying,” the report said.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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