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IDF Says Human Rights Watch Report ‘Recycled Disproven Claims’ to Allege Israeli War Crimes During Hamas Conflict

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Israeli soldiers walk around tanks in a field near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, on its Israeli side May 14, 2021. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

The Israeli military rebuffed a Human Rights Watch report published Tuesday that accused the IDF of carrying out attacks amounting to “war crimes” during the recent Gaza conflict in May.

According to the report by the international human rights organization, which focused mainly on three strikes it attributed to the IDF, both Israeli forces and Palestinian groups committed war crimes during the 11-day fighting in May.

“We regret that HRW chooses to recycle claims already disproved instead of condemning the blatant violations of international law by Hamas and other terror organizations, such as carrying out military operations from civilian areas including mosques, schools and hospitals, and firing indiscriminately at the Israeli civilian population,” the IDF said.

During Operation Guardian of the Walls, terror organizations including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad fired over 4,400 rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians, with 640 of them falling within the Gaza Strip leading to casualties. In response to the rocket barrage, which took the lives of 12 people in Israel, the IDF struck a total of 1,600 military targets, killed about 200 terrorist activists in Gaza, and dismantled more than 60 miles of the Hamas militant group’s tunnel infrastructure.

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According to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, about 250 Palestinians were killed as a result of Israeli attacks.

“Israeli forces carried out attacks in Gaza in May that devastated entire families without any apparent military target nearby,” alleged Gerry Simpson, associate crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch. “Israeli authorities’ consistent unwillingness to seriously investigate alleged war crimes, as well as Palestinian forces’ rocket attacks toward Israeli population centers, underscores the importance of the International Criminal Court’s inquiry.”

The HRW report published the findings regarding three incidents that it said killed 62 Palestinian civilians.

In response to the first accusation in the HRW report — that an Israeli-guided missile on May 10, shortly after 6 p.m., struck near four houses of the al-Masri family near the town of Beit Hanoun, killing eight civilians, including six children — the IDF reiterated that the strike was a “failed launch attempt by a terror organization in Gaza.” On that day, it has said, the clashes were triggered by Hamas firing rockets towards Jerusalem after a 6 p.m. “ultimatum” elapsed which had called for Israel to withdraw security forces from the Temple Mount.

“Regarding the claims of an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) strike, an IDF examination of the matter found that the IDF did not carry out any strikes in the area at the relevant time, including the use of ATGMs,” the IDF said.

The Israeli military also published a series of graphics that it said illustrated the trajectory and other details of the errant rocket responsible for the May 10 strike in Beit Hanoun.

An IDF illustration portraying the trajectory of a purported errant rocket that landed in Beit Hanoun on May 10. Photo: IDF

According to the second incident, on May 15, the report found that an Israeli guided bomb destroyed a three-story building in the Al-Shati refugee camp, killing ten civilians, including two women and eight children from two related families.

“The IDF carried out a strike against a number of Hamas terror organization senior officials in an apartment used as terror infrastructure in the area of the Al-Shati refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. Tragically, the strike led to the deaths of civilians. The details are under review,” the IDF said in response.

“Hamas deliberately embeds its military assets in densely populated civilian areas, endangering Gazan civilians in order to cover its unlawful terror activities that put civilians directly in harms way. At the same time, the IDF takes all feasible precautions to avoid harming civilians during its operational activities,” the Israeli army added.

The report also referenced a barrage of Israeli airstrikes on May 16 lasting four minutes, which struck al-Wahda street in Gaza city, causing a three multi-story buildings to collapse, and killing 44. It argued that the Israeli military presented “no details” to support the claim that it was targeting terror tunnels and an underground command center used by armed groups.

The IDF said that according to its preliminary findings, Israel aircraft struck Hamas underground military infrastructure located under the Al-Wahda street in the area.

“The underground military facilities collapsed, and caused, in an unexpected manner, the foundations of nearby civilian buildings to collapse as well, leading to unintended casualties. The target of the IDF strike was the underground military infrastructure. The IDF aims to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible. The IDF regrets the harm caused to civilians in the strike and views every civilian death as a tragedy,” the Israeli army said.

In Tuesday’s report, HRW urged the US to condition security assistance to Israel and to take “verifiable actions to improve its compliance with laws of war.”

Additionally, HRW charged Palestinian armed groups for “unlawfully” killing civilians in Israel and Gaza by launching thousands of rockets between May 10 and May 21. The group said it would later release a separate report on Palestinian rocket attacks.

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