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Israel must be held criminally accountable for Gaza war crimes – Human Rights Watch

Published time: August 05, 2014 23:30

Palestinians look at destroyed houses after returning to the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 5, 2014. (Reuters / Mohammed Salem)

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Israel's military is responsible for major war crimes in Gaza, including the civilian death toll and a massive destruction of infrastructure. There is almost no water and no electricity, only a few medicines are available, HRW’s Bill van Esweld told RT.

The Human Rights Watch activist's statement follows a report by the organization that the Israel Defense Forces are targeting and killing Palestinian civilians seeking to flee the fighting.

RT: Israel’s actions have been branded a criminal act. How would you assess them?

Bill van Esweld: We have been able to investigate in detail a number of cases and in those cases we have grave concerns that war crimes were committed, these cases involve disproportionate attacks that killed very large numbers of civilians, apparently in an effort to go after individual members of armed groups, but were unjustifiable given the civilian death toll that should have been expected and predictable to the people launching the attack. Of even more concern are large numbers of attacks we’ve seen without any military objectives in the area. Large numbers of civilians getting killed by very precise advanced weapons, despite the fact that there were no rockets being launched from their areas, there were no members of Palestinian armed groups in those areas. This has contributed to that incredible, terrible death toll. And that is even setting aside the massive amount of damage and the destruction of almost a thousand homes in Gaza.

RT: What about this current ceasefire? Do you think it will go the distance?

BE: I’m sorry to say that I have been wrong in making predictions about the direction this conflict was going to take in the past. Of course we hope that there will be an end to civilian loss of life and that some form of ceasefire would hold for that reason. But what’s most important from our perspective is that there be accountability for the crimes that have been committed here. Ceasefire or no ceasefire. We’ve seen ceasefires held up as justifications when Western countries or the Israeli military claims that Hamas violated the ceasefire in the past. That has been held up as a justification and a claim that any future civilian deaths would be the responsibility of Hamas for violating the ceasefire. And that is completely incorrect and quite dangerous. What has to happen is that the laws of war need to stop being violated and that finally for once in Gaza there needs to be criminal accountability for war crimes.

RT: The aim of the Operation Protective Edge was to eliminate Hamas tunnels, as Israel put it – but given that homes, hospitals, schools, and other civilian objects were destroyed, how would you access this operation? Was this mission successful, did it achieve what it was aiming to achieve?

BE: From the perspective of the civilians on the ground in Gaza this operation has been a catastrophic failure. Whether or not we will continue to see rocket launches, whether or not the Israeli political and military leadership feels they are able to claim success now is of less direct concern than the fact that Gaza’s infrastructure is on the brink of collapse. There has been such massive destruction in areas that the Israeli military declared a no-go zone that covered almost half of Gaza’s territory. Many families were not able to return to the remains of their homes. Not their homes but what’s left of them until actually today. The whole scale of the destruction has still been unknown. I believe that in the last 24 hours something like 192 bodies have been recovered that were inaccessible before. So whether or not one side or the other is able to claim success out of this from a military perspective is of less immediate concern than what is going to happen to the 1.8 million people left in Gaza with almost no water, no electricity, a health system that lacks essential medicines, where doctors have been working around the clock and are completely overwhelmed. I’m afraid the death toll from injuries and disease is very likely to rise even after the bombs stop falling.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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