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.
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.
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.
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.
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 defense system intercepted many others.
The death of Daniel Tregerman, a four-year-old boy, on August 22, 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.
“My husband and son were in the living room and I was yelling for them to come into the shelter. Shrapnel [from the mortar] entered Daniel’s head, killing him immediately,” his mother, Gila Tregerman, told Amnesty International.
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 July 19.
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.
Other civilians killed by attacks launched in Gaza included an agricultural worker from Thailand, Narakorn Kittiyangkul, who was killed when a mortar struck the tomato farm in southern Israel where he was working. Ze’ev Etzion and Shahar Melamed were killed in a mortar attack on Kibbutz Nirim on August 26.
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 July 28, 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.
Mahmoud Abu Shaqfa and his five-year-old son Khaled were seriously wounded in the attack. His eight-year-old son Muhammad was killed.
“The rocket fell near the car…The whole car was pierced by shrapnel. A piece of shrapnel pierced me…My son [Khaled] came to me. He was screaming ‘Daddy get up, get up…’My entire leg was torn open and my arm had been wrenched to my back.”
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.
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.