An IDF soldier during the Gaza war
An IDF soldier during the Gaza war Photo by (Archive)
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Human Rights Watch said Thursday it had evidence of cases from a 2008-09 conflict in which the Israeli army wantonly destroyed civilian property in the Gaza Strip, even if there was no military necessity.

Israel should investigate the alleged cases of destruction during the 2008-2009 Gaza war, and those who committed or ordered them should be prosecuted for war crimes, the international human rights organization said.

The New York-headquartered group criticized Hamas and other Palestinian groups for firing rockets from populated areas, noting that, in such cases, property damage caused by Israeli counterstrikes "may have been lawful 'collateral damage.'"

But in a 116-page report published Thursday, titled "'I lost everything': Israel's Unlawful Destruction of Property in the Gaza conflict," the group described 12 cases in which troops destroyed homes, factories and orchards "without any lawful military purpose."

In those cases, HRW said it found no indication of nearby fighting at the time of the destruction. In all cases, the fighting in the area had stopped and, in most, Israeli bulldozers destroyed the property after Israeli soldiers had dispersed Palestinian militants in the area and consolidated control, said the group.

HRW said it documented the complete destruction of 190 buildings, including 11 factories, 8 warehouses and 170 residential buildings - which it said was roughly 5 per cent of the total property destroyed in Gaza - leaving at least 971 Palestinians homeless.

It also condemned Israel's economic blockade of Gaza as illegal collective punishment, which prevented proper reconstruction. In this, it also held Egypt responsible.

Although Israel had "valid" security concerns that Hamas could use cement to build or strengthen military bunkers and weapons smuggling tunnels, Israel should "urgently" create a mechanism to independently monitor the use of cement for civilian reconstruction, it said.

"The United States, the European Union and other states should urgently call upon Israel and Egypt to open Gaza's borders to reconstruction materials and other supplies essential for the civilian population," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at HRW.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesman in Jerusalem said the army was formulating a response to the report.