London. - Palestinian armed groups displayed a flagrant disregard for the lives of civilians by repeatedly launching indiscriminate rockets and mortars towards civilian areas in Israel during the conflict in July and August 2014, said Amnesty International in a new report published on Thursday. The report "Unlawful and deadly: Rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict" provides evidence that several attacks launched from inside the Gaza Strip amount to war crimes.
Six civilians in Israel, including a four-year-old boy, were killed in such attacks during the 50-day conflict. In the deadliest incident believed to have been caused by a Palestinian attack, 11 children were among 13 Palestinian civilians killed when a projectile fired from within the Gaza Strip landed in the al-Shati refugee camp.
"Palestinian armed groups, including the armed wing of Hamas, repeatedly launched unlawful attacks during the conflict killing and injuring civilians. In launching these attacks, they displayed a flagrant disregard for international humanitarian law and for the consequences of their violations on civilians in both Israel and the Gaza Strip," said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
All the rockets used by Palestinian armed groups are unguided projectiles which cannot be accurately aimed at specific targets and are inherently indiscriminate; using such weapons is prohibited under international law and their use constitutes a war crime. Mortars are also imprecise munitions and should never be used to attack military targets located in or near civilian areas.
"Palestinian armed groups must end all direct attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks. They must also take all feasible precautions to protect civilians in the Gaza Strip from the effects of such attacks. This includes taking all possible measures to avoid locating fighters and arms within or near densely populated areas," said Luther.
At least 1,585 Palestinian civilians, including more than 530 children, were killed in Gaza, and at least 16,245 homes were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable by Israeli attacks during the conflict, some of which also amounted to war crimes.
"The devastating impact of Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians during the conflict is undeniable, but violations by one side in a conflict can never justify violations by their opponents," explained Luther.
"The fact that Palestinian armed groups appear to have carried out war crimes by firing indiscriminate rockets and mortars does not absolve the Israeli forces from their obligations under international humanitarian law. The war wrought an unprecedented level of death, destruction and injury on the 1.8 million people in the Gaza Strip, and some of the Israeli attacks must be investigated as war crimes."
"The Israeli and Palestinian authorities must both co-operate with the probes of the UN Commission of Inquiry and the International Criminal Court to end decades of impunity that have perpetuated a cycle of violations in which civilians on both sides have paid a heavy price."
According to UN data, more than 4,800 rockets and 1,700 mortars were fired from Gaza towards Israel during the conflict. Out of the thousands of rockets and mortars fired, around 224 are estimated to have struck Israeli residential areas, as Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system intercepted many others.
The death of Daniel Tregerman, a four-year-old boy, on 22 August 2014 clearly illustrates the tragic consequences of using imprecise weapons such as mortars on civilian areas. His family had fled their home in Kibbutz Nahal Oz because of the fighting but returned the day before he was killed. Moments after the alarm sirens went off, a mortar launched from Gaza struck the family car parked outside the house. Daniel’s little sister who was also present watched him die before her eyes.
Hamas’ military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, claimed responsibility for the attack.
The briefing also highlights the Israeli authorities’ failure to adequately protect civilians in vulnerable communities during the conflict, particularly Bedouin villages in Israel’s Negev/Naqab region, many of which are not officially recognized by the Israeli government. Ouda Jumi’an al-Waj was killed by a rocket that struck the Bedouin village of Qasr al-Sir near the Israeli city of Dimona on 19 July.
Most Bedouin villages are classified as non-residential "open areas" by the Israeli authorities, so the Iron Dome system to intercept rockets does not operate there and there are no bomb shelters. More than 100,000 people live in Bedouin villages in southern Israel.
"Civilians living in Bedouin villages during the conflict were left vulnerable and exposed, one manifestation of the discrimination they face on a daily basis. The Israeli authorities must ensure everyone is given equal protection," said Luther.
In the deadliest incident believed to have been caused by a Palestinian armed group during the conflict, 13 Palestinian civilians – 11 of them children – were killed when a projectile exploded next to a supermarket in the crowded al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza on 28 July 2014, the first day of Eid al-Fitr.
The children had been playing in the street and buying crisps and soft drinks in the supermarket at the time of the attack.
Although Palestinians have claimed that the Israeli military was responsible for the attack, an independent munitions expert who examined the available evidence on behalf of Amnesty International concluded that the projectile used in the attack was a Palestinian rocket.
There are no bomb shelters or warning systems in place to protect civilians in Gaza.
The report also details other violations of international humanitarian law by Palestinian armed groups during the conflict, such as storing rockets and other munitions in civilian buildings, including UN schools, and cases where Palestinian armed groups launched attacks or stored munitions very near locations where hundreds of displaced civilians were taking shelter.
"The international community must help prevent further violations by tackling entrenched impunity and by ending transfers to Palestinian armed groups and Israel of all arms and military equipment that could be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law," said Luther.
Amnesty International is calling on all states to support the UN Commission of Inquiry and the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over crimes committed by all parties to the conflict.