Israeli air strikes on multi-story buildings in the Gaza Strip during the latter days of the summer hostilities amount to war crimes, Amnesty International said in a report on Tuesday, calling for an independent and impartial investigation.
“Both the facts on the ground and statements made by Israeli military spokespeople at the time indicate that the attacks were a collective punishment against the people of Gaza and were designed to destroy their already precarious livelihoods,” said Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.
The Israeli Embassy in London called Amnesty's report a "decontextualized description of events," focused on the monetary losses suffered by Palestinian civilians rather than an investigation into Palestinian militants' rocket fire against Israeli civilians.
"Amnesty in its latest report on this summer's conflict between Israel and Hamas, chooses to focus on monetary losses to Palestinian civilians, rather than investigate the systematic and deliberate firing of rockets and mortars at Israel's civilian population by an internationally-recognized Jihadist terror group," the embassy said in a statement.
"The report offers a decontextualized description of events, while relying heavily on testimonies gathered by unnamed local 'fieldworkers,' who are not identified and whose credibility is never questioned," adds the statement.
Amnesty's report refers to the Israeli strikes against four buildings in Rafah, to the south of the Strip. According to the report, a shopping mall, a garage, several offices and a medical clinic were completely reduced in the air strikes.
The report adds that whie the Israeli military warned the residents of the buildings to leave before they destroyed them, scores of people from nearby buildings were wounded and hundreds lost their homes, businesses and belongings.
The Amnesty report said that Israel's reasons for attacking the buildings, namely that one of them housed a Hamas command center and another was also said to be linked to militants, were not enough.
“Even if the Israeli authorities had good reason to believe that a part of a building was being used for military purposes, they had an obligation to choose means and methods of attack that would minimize harm to civilians and their property,” says Philip Luther. “The Israeli army have previously conducted air strikes on specific apartments in high-rise buildings without their complete destruction.”
In its response, Israel welcomed Amnesty's referral to its warning procedures and the measures it took to avoid civilian casualities, but says the report then "goes on to make unfounded allegations concerning the conduct of the IDF, disregarding key factors:"
"First, the IDF does not intentionally target civilians or civilian property; its activity is dictated by international law, is directed against military objectives, and abides by the principle of proportionality.
"Second, Amnesty ignores that in some cases, releasing information that would disclose in detail the target of military strikes might jeopardize classified information and intelligence sources.
"Third, and most blatantly, Amnesty ignores the clear evidence that Hamas systematically and deliberately used civilian infrastructure for military purposes."
"We welcome Amnesty's stated intention of publishing reports regarding Hamas human rights violations in Gaza," the embassy said in its response. "The absence of reports on Hamas, coupled with outrageous public statements by Amnesty officials recently, comparing Israel to the terror group ISIL, cast serious doubt as to Amnesty's capacity to play a constructive role in covering this issue."
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