An international human rights group on Tuesday accused the Israel Defense Forces of failing on six occasions to verify the targets of drone aircraft during the Gaza conflict in January, killing at least 29 Palestinian civilians.
The report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that in the six incidents in question, "Israeli forces either failed to take all feasible precautions to verify that the targets were combatants, apparently setting an unacceptably low threshold for conducting attacks, or they failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians and to target only the former. As a result, these attacks violated international humanitarian law (the laws of war)."
Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst with HRW, charged that drone operators had fired before making sure their targets were actual threats, calling drones the most precise weapons available.
"We should not find so many civilian casualties from these incidents," he said.
Drones are operated by remote control by pilots watching their targets on a video monitor. Their use has risen sharply in recent years because of their ability to hit targets with relatively great accuracy without placing a pilot in danger. American forces have been using drones along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Israel has not acknowledged using pilotless planes for airstrikes but Palestinian witnesses and defense experts have reported seeing Israeli drones attacking targets on the ground.
Israel launched its three-week conflict in Gaza in late December to halt daily rocket attacks on its southern communities. Palestinian sources say that more than 1,000 Palestinians, including more than 900 civilians, were killed. Israel says the vast majority of the dead were militants.
Thirteen Israelis were also killed.
Israel has acknowledged loosening its rules of engagement in Gaza to minimize military casualties. Rights groups have accused Israel of using disproportionate force and failing to protect civilians.
The six drone strikes investigated by HRW were three that hit children playing on Gaza rooftops and three others that hit an elementary school serving as a refugee center, a group of students at a bus stop, and a metal shop near a refugee camp.
In each case, the report claims, high-resolution video from the drones should have told operators there were no gunmen in the area.
Human Rights Watch said it verified the six attacks by investigating the strike sites and interviewing witnesses soon after the war ended. They found a particular type of shrapnel and a neat dispersion of the missile parts consistent with a drone-fired Israeli Spike missile, Garlasco said.
An independent Norwegian defense analyst confirmed those findings, the group said.
The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem claims 87 Gaza civilians were killed in more than 40 drone strikes during the war, but Human Rights Watch investigated only six of those attacks.
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