Operation 'Cast Lead'
The 22-day Israeli military offensive on Gaza, launched without warning, had the stated aim of ending rocket attacks into Israel by armed factions affiliated to Hamas and other Palestinian groups. The offensive killed more than 1,380 Palestinians and injured around 5,000, many of them seriously. More than 1,800 of the injured were children. Thousands of civilian homes, businesses and public buildings were destroyed. Entire neighbourhoods were flattened. The electricity, water and sewage systems were severely damaged, as was other vital infrastructure. Large swathes of agricultural land and many industrial and commercial properties were destroyed. Much of the destruction was wanton and deliberate, and could not be justified on grounds of military necessity. Thirteen Israelis were killed during the fighting, including three civilians killed by rockets and mortars fired by Palestinian armed groups into southern Israel (see Palestinian Authority entry).
Before and during Operation "Cast Lead" the Israeli army refused to allow into Gaza independent observers, journalists, human rights monitors and humanitarian workers, effectively cutting off Gaza from the outside world. The authorities also refused to co-operate with an investigation by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).
The HRC report, issued in September and known as the Goldstone report, accused Israel and Hamas of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity in Gaza and southern Israel. It recommended that those responsible for war crimes be brought to justice.
The Israeli authorities did not establish any independent or impartial investigation into the conduct of its forces during Operation "Cast Lead", although there were a number of internal investigations.
Hundreds of civilians were killed by Israeli attacks using long-range high-precision munitions fired from combat aircraft, helicopters and drones, or from tanks stationed several kilometres from their target. Victims were not caught in the crossfire or when shielding militants, but killed in their homes while sleeping, carrying out daily tasks or playing. Some civilians, including children, were shot at close range when posing no threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers. Paramedics and ambulances were repeatedly attacked while rescuing the wounded, leading to several deaths.
Scores of civilians were killed and injured by less precise weapons, such as artillery shells and mortars, and flechette tank shells.
White phosphorus was repeatedly fired indiscriminately over densely populated residential areas, killing and wounding civilians and destroying civilian property.
Many of these attacks violated international law as they were disproportionate and indiscriminate; directly targeted civilians and civilian objects, including medical personnel and vehicles; failed to take all feasible precautions to minimize the risks to civilians; and failed to allow timely access to and passage of medical and relief personnel and vehicles.
- On 4 January, Sa'adallah Matar Abu Halima and four of his children were killed in a white phosphorus attack on their home in the Sayafa area in north-west Gaza. His wife Sabah was seriously burned and told Amnesty International that she had watched her baby girl Shahed melt in her arms. Soon after the attack Israeli soldiers shot dead at close range cousins Matar and Muhammad Abu Halima as they tried to take their burned relatives to hospital.
- During the night of 6 January, 22 members of the al- Daya family, most of them women and children, were killed when an Israeli F-16 aircraft bombed their home in the al-Zaytoun district of Gaza City.
Attacks on civilian objects
Israeli forces attacked hospitals, medical staff and ambulances as well as humanitarian facilities, including UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) buildings. At least 15 of the 27 hospitals in Gaza were damaged, some extensively; around 30 ambulances were hit and 16 health workers were killed. Amnesty International found no evidence that Hamas or armed militants used hospitals as hiding places or to carry out attacks, and the Israeli authorities did not provide evidence to substantiate such allegations.