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Monday, December 24, 2012
Close but no cigar: Human Rights Watch mentions launching weapons from civilian areas in Gaza but does not term it war crime or cite manufacturing and storing weapons

[Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA:

Here is what the top Palestinian NGO once wrote:

"Palestinian Centre for Human Rights...Warns of the dangers caused by
continued manufacturing or storage of explosive devices by Palestinian
resistance groups in civilian-populated
areas, which threaten the lives of Palestinian civilians and violate
international humanitarian law."
http://www.pchrgaza.org/portal/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4028:stop-this-tragedy-pchr-concerned-over-casualties-caused-by-continuing-internal-explosions-8-palestinians-including-a-child-killed-and-more-than-40-injured-after-explosion-in-beit-lahia-&catid=72:press-releases-security-chaos-&Itemid=213

Then contrast these two HRW statements:

"Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, civilians and
civilian structures may not be subject to deliberate attacks or attacks that
do not discriminate between civilians and military targets. Anyone who
commits serious laws-of-war violations intentionally or recklessly is
responsible for war crimes.

and this:

"Human Rights Watch research in Gaza found that armed groups repeatedly
fired rockets from densely populated areas, near homes, businesses, and a
hotel, unnecessarily placing civilians in the vicinity at grave risk from
Israeli counter-fire... Under the laws of war, parties to an armed conflict
are required to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians under
their control from the effects of attacks and not to place military targets
in or near densely populated areas. Human Rights Watch has not been able to
identify any instances in November in which a Palestinian armed group warned
civilians to evacuate an area before a rocket launch."

So while HRW does in their article terms it a "war crime" for the
Palestinians to TARGET Israeli civilians, the core violation that
facilitates this activity - that they use HUMAN SHIELDS - is not explicitly
cited as a "war crime" without even addressing the ongoing Palestinian crime
of manufacturing and storing the weapons in a civilian area. PCHR condemned
this Palestinian activity even when the terrorists were not shooting. HRW
seems to say that as long as there isn't a battle going on there is nothing
wrong with manufacturing and storing weapons in civilian areas.

Why does it matter?

Because the operative issue every day of the week is stopping the
Palestinians from continuing with their practice of manufacturing or
storing explosive devices in civilian-populated areas.]

Gaza: Palestinian Rockets Unlawfully Targeted Israeli Civilians
Residents Describe Deaths, Destruction from Attacks
December 24, 2012
Human Rights Watch
http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/12/24/gaza-palestinian-rockets-unlawfully-targeted-israeli-civilians

(Jerusalem) – Palestinian armed groups in Gaza violated the laws of war
during the November 2012 fighting by launching hundreds of rockets toward
population centers in Israel.

About 1,500 rockets were fired at Israel between November 14 and 21, the
Israel Defense Forces reported. At least 800 struck Israel, including 60
that hit populated areas.

The rocket attacks, including the first from Gaza to strike the Tel Aviv and
Jerusalem areas, killed three Israeli civilians, wounded at least 38,
several seriously, and destroyed civilian property. Rockets that fell short
of their intended targets in Israel apparently killed at least two
Palestinians in Gaza and wounded others, Human Rights Watch said.

“Palestinian armed groups made clear in their statements that harming
civilians was their aim,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at
Human Rights Watch. “There is simply no legal justification for launching
rockets at populated areas.”

Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, civilians and
civilian structures may not be subject to deliberate attacks or attacks that
do not discriminate between civilians and military targets. Anyone who
commits serious laws-of-war violations intentionally or recklessly is
responsible for war crimes.

During and after the November fighting, Human Rights Watch interviewed
witnesses, victims, and relatives of people killed and injured by rocket
attacks in Israel, as well as Israeli officials from two communities struck
by rockets, and a spokesperson for the Israeli emergency medical services.

Human Rights Watch research in Gaza found that armed groups repeatedly fired
rockets from densely populated areas, near homes, businesses, and a hotel,
unnecessarily placing civilians in the vicinity at grave risk from Israeli
counter-fire.

The Palestinian armed groups that are known to have launched rockets at
Israel – Hamas' Izz el-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Islamic Jihad's Saraya
al-Quds Brigades, and the Popular Resistance Committee's Nasser Salahaddin
Brigades – at times said that their attacks targeted civilians or they
sought to justify the attacks by calling them reprisals for Israeli attacks
that killed civilians in Gaza.

On November 18, for example, the al-Qassam Brigades announced that it had
launched a Fajr 5 at Tel Aviv “as a response for the ongoing aggression
against Palestinian people.” The Nasser Salahaddin Brigades stated on
November 10 that it had launched four rockets at Israeli communities close
to Gaza as a “revenge invoice” for Israeli shelling that had killed four
Palestinian civilians.

The laws of war prohibit reprisal attacks against civilians, regardless of
unlawful attacks by the other side, Human Rights Watch said. Statements by
armed groups that they deliberately targeted an Israeli city or Israeli
civilians are demonstrating their intent to commit war crimes.

Hamas, the ruling authority in Gaza, is obligated to uphold the laws of war
and should appropriately punish those responsible for serious violations,
Human Rights Watch said.

During the November fighting, Palestinian armed groups launched rockets that
reached further into Israel than ever before, with eight rockets reportedly
striking or being intercepted in the Tel Aviv area and three near Jerusalem.
Hamas' al-Qassam Brigades stated on November 22 that armed groups during the
fighting had launched 12 long-range rockets, one toward the city of Herzliya
in the Tel Aviv district and three toward Jerusalem.

Israel's Internal Security Agency (ISA) said that about half of the rockets
fired into Israel were short range, reaching up to 20 kilometers; slightly
less than half were medium range, reaching 20 to 60 kilometers, and less
than 1 percent were long range reaching over 60 kilometers.

The Israel Defense Forces said that its “Iron Dome” anti-rocket defense
system intercepted more than 400 rockets during the November fighting. Of
the rockets that hit Israel, the vast majority landed in open areas, causing
no injuries or damage.

In addition to the locally made Qassam rockets and Soviet-designed Grad
rockets long used by Palestinian armed groups, the Qassam Brigades announced
that it had launched a locally made larger rocket, called the M75, as well
as Iranian-produced Fajr 5 rockets. Officials from Hamas and Islamic Jihad
said that Iran had supplied Palestinian armed groups with military support.

The Guardian newspaper quoted an Iranian military official's statement to
Iranian media that Iran had not supplied rockets but had provided technical
information to Palestinian armed groups that enabled them to build their own
Fajr 5 rockets. The Fajr 5 has a reported range of 75 kilometers, capable of
reaching the Tel Aviv metropolitan area from Gaza, with 90 kilograms of
explosives in its warhead.

Supplying weaponry to a party to a conflict knowing that it is likely to be
used to commit war crimes constitutes the aiding and abetting of war crimes,
as demonstrated in the April conviction of former Liberian president Charles
Taylor by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Civilian Victims
The three Israeli civilian deaths came from one rocket that struck an
apartment building in Kiryat Malachi near Ashdod around 8 a.m. on November
15, killing Aharon Smadja, 48, Mira Scharf, 25, and Yitzhak Amsalem, 24. Two
men and an 8-month-old baby were wounded.

A statement by Hamas's al-Qassam Brigades claimed responsibility for
launching five Grad rockets at Kiryat Malachi that day at 7:50 a.m.

The Israeli emergency medical service, Magen David Adom, said that during
the November fighting, medics treated thirty-eight civilians wounded by
rockets, three of them severely and four of them moderately. The wounded
included a 50-year-old man in Ashkelon, whose foot was traumatically
amputated by a rocket blast; a man in Ofakim who was severely wounded when a
rocket hit the car in which he was riding; and a 43-year-old man in the
Zeelim area who suffered severe injuries to his upper body from rocket
shrapnel.

Kfir Rosen, a 26-year-old state employee, described a November 20 rocket
blast that injured him in the shoulder and leg:

The things in the house flew around, doors were blown out, the whole
building shook. A splinter from the rocket flew past and scraped my throat.
After the explosion we couldn't see a thing; it was all full of smoke and
dust. A [concrete] block from upstairs hit my shoulder, and another hit the
back of my hip.

Rockets also destroyed civilian property including homes and schools. On
November 20, a rocket tore the roof off a school in Ashkelon.

Some rockets launched by Palestinian armed groups fell short and struck
inside Gaza. On November 16, a rocket that appears to have been launched
from within Gaza hit a crowded street in the Gazan town of Jabalya, killing
a man, 23, and a boy, 4, and wounding five people.

Launching from Residential Neighborhoods
Human Rights Watch interviewed four witnesses to rocket launches from
densely populated areas inside Gaza, and heard second-hand reports about
many more. Unlike during previous fighting, armed groups seem to have fired
many rockets from underground tunnels, opening a hatch to launch the
munition.

One rocket was launched on November 20 at around 1:30 p.m. just off Wehda
Street in Gaza City, about 100 meters from the Shawa and Housari Building,
where various Palestinian and international media have offices. “I saw it
[the rocket] go up and heard it, and then smoke was in the office,” a
witness said.

One man said he saw a rocket launched from the yard of a house near the
Deira Hotel in central Gaza City, though he could not recall the date.

International and Palestinian journalists traveling around Gaza during the
fighting told Human Rights Watch that they did not see any Palestinian
militants moving in the open, suggesting that Hamas has developed a network
of tunnels for personnel and perhaps rockets.

Under the laws of war, parties to an armed conflict are required to take all
feasible precautions to protect civilians under their control from the
effects of attacks and not to place military targets in or near densely
populated areas. Human Rights Watch has not been able to identify any
instances in November in which a Palestinian armed group warned civilians to
evacuate an area before a rocket launch.

The rockets launched by Palestinian groups cannot be aimed precisely enough
to target military objectives in or near civilian areas, Human Rights Watch
said. Under the laws of war, such weapons are therefore indiscriminate when
used against targets in population centers. The absence of Israeli military
forces in the areas where rockets hit, as well as statements by leaders of
Palestinian armed groups that population centers were being targeted,
indicate that the armed groups deliberately attacked Israeli civilians and
civilian objects.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly condemned indiscriminate rocket attacks on
Israeli population centers, as well as Hamas' failure to hold anyone
accountable for those attacks. Human Rights Watch reiterated those
condemnations.

The November 14 to 21 hostilities between Israel and Hamas and armed groups
in Gaza involved unlawful attacks on civilians by both sides. Four Israeli
civilians and at least 103 Palestinian civilians died during the fighting.
The fourth Israeli civilian, an Israeli Bedouin named Alayaan Salem
al-Nabari, 33, was killed on November 20 in a mortar attack in the Eshkol
Regional Council area that reportedly wounded several soldiers. According to
the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he was accompanying his cousin who
works for a company that builds tents for the military.

“A limited military arsenal that relies on largely indiscriminate rockets
does not justify a failure to respect the laws of war, which apply to all
sides in a conflict whatever their capabilities,” Whitson said. “As the
ruling authority in Gaza, Hamas has an obligation to stop unlawful attacks
and punish those responsible.”

Rocket Attack Cases

Kiryat Malachi
On November 15, at around 8 a.m., a “Grad” type rocket struck the top two
floors of a four-story apartment building in Kiryat Malachi, a town of
20,000 people 25 kilometers north of Gaza. The rocket killed Aharon Smadja,
48, Mira Scharf, 25, and Yitzhak Amsalem, 24. The blast wounded Scharf's
husband, Shmuel, and the couple's 8-month-old boy. The rocket also wounded
Boris Chorona, 52, a deliveryman who had been standing outside the building.

Smadja, a rabbi, lived on the third floor of the building with his wife and
their four children, his cousin Rachel Gueta told Human Rights Watch. Gueta,
who spoke with residents of the building, said that a warning siren
sounded – Israel's “Color Red” system, which alerts residents of incoming
rockets – and that Smadja, his wife, and children went downstairs to a
designated protected area inside the building. Smadja then heard Amsalem's
mother calling her son to come to the protected area, and Smadja went
upstairs to get the younger man. The men were reportedly killed while
standing next to a window in Amsalem's apartment.

“The rocket hit the fourth floor and penetrated through to the third,”
destroying the Smadjas' apartment, Gueta told Human Rights Watch. “The
police let [Smadja's wife] go back to the apartment once to get some
clothes. Her kids said, ‘You came back with clothes, but not with dad.'”

Gueta said that Smadja's corpse was badly disfigured from the blast. “The
funeral was horrible. The nylon that was supposed to cover the body was not
closed properly. And two sirens sounded during the funeral. We had to run to
[a protected area in] the synagogue.”

Chorona, a furniture deliveryman from Tiberius, was standing outside the
apartment building when the rocket hit. Chorona's daughter-in-law, Roxanna,
told Human Rights Watch that he was “waiting by the [delivery] truck” when
shrapnel from the rocket almost completely severed his hand. Doctors “saved
his hand but it doesn't function,” she said. “A splinter from the rocket hit
the nerve. He can't work. He needs his wife's help to shower and eat.” The
rocket also badly damaged the truck.

A Kiryat Malachi spokesman, Yossi Peretz, told Human Rights Watch that the
rocket was the only one that has hit the town.

Rishon LeZion
On November 20 at about 6 p.m., a rocket that Israeli media identified as an
Iranian-produced Fajr 5 struck the top two floors of a seven-story apartment
building in Rishon LeZion, a city of 220,000 about 60 kilometers northeast
of Gaza.

Kobi Mordechai, 31, a gas station attendant, lived with his wife and three
young children in an apartment on the sixth floor. The family and a friend
were home when the siren sounded, he said:

We ran into the shelter [in the hallway outside the apartment], all six of
us. Then we heard a huge explosion. I went out of the shelter but couldn't
see a thing. The electricity was gone, and everything was full of smoke and
what looked like fire, so we went back in. Only when someone came to get us
and we left the building did I understand it had been my apartment. The
rocket was in my house ­– it hit my house directly. The whole place is in
ruins; almost nothing is left. We managed to get just a few things out. The
kids saw our house on television; they saw their shelter, their toys. They
asked their grandmother, “Grandma, will you also not have a house soon?”

Kfir Rosen, a 26-year-old employee of the Rishon LeZion municipality, lived
with his parents and brother on the second floor of the building. His
parents were not home at the time. Rosen told Human Rights Watch that he
heard the “Color Red” early-warning siren and warned his brother to go to
their shelter, but his brother said that he wanted to see the rocket
intercepted by Israel's “Iron Dome” anti-rocket missile system. He told
Human Rights Watch: “I asked myself, ‘What's the chance that the rocket will
actually fall on me of all places?' and we stayed on the balcony. The siren
stopped, and about 20 seconds later we heard an enormous boom.” He said that
pieces of his building struck him in the shoulder and hip.

Rosen said that the rocket “made a big hole in the balcony on the third
floor above mine, and then fell down to the neighbors' lawn. Even the
apartments in the adjacent building were damaged by the blast.” He said
police “only gave us minutes to retrieve a few things” from the building,
because “they say the upper floors might fall down, the structure isn't
safe.” Rosen and his family are living in a hotel while the building is
repaired.

The armed group that fired the rocket apparently packed it with
anti-personnel shrapnel. “Lots of tiny balls that were inside the rocket
flew out all over the place” when it hit, Rosen said. Small holes that he
said were caused by the shrapnel had pockmarked the wall of the building and
another building across the street.

Ashdod
On November 17 at around 8 a.m., a rocket struck a private home in Ashdod
while five people were there, badly damaging the house and wounding the
mother. A daughter, 22, who was not in the house at the time, said her
father, mother, 14-year-old sister, brother-in-law, and 2-year-old niece
were at home when the rocket struck. The woman said she saw the house a few
hours after the explosion:

We don't have a shelter at home, so they were all hiding in my room, which
is on the bottom floor and has fewer external walls. We had two floors, and
the top floor is what saved my family. An iron beam stopped the rocket; it
exploded on the top floor. A brick flew and hit my mother in the head. When
I arrived at the house, it was just awful. I didn't know that this is what a
rocket does to a house; the news doesn't really show you. My little sister's
room doesn't have a ceiling anymore. My niece started to wet her bed. After
that, when there were [rocket] sirens, she'd go into the shelter shaking and
crying.

Rockets struck Ashdod repeatedly during the fighting, including rockets that
hit a residential area on November 16 and a store on November 20.

Sderot
Residents of Sderot, a residential community near the Gaza perimeter that
was first struck by rockets from Gaza in 2002, described near-hits from
rockets that exploded during the eight-day conflict.

“We couldn't leave our houses for a week; we were constantly in the
shelters,” Shirly Seidler, 25, a journalist with Yedioth South who lives in
Sderot, told Human Rights Watch. Residents have 10 to 15 seconds after the
rocket siren sounds to enter a protected space, she said.

One rocket hit the house across the street from her home in Sderot:

We ran to the shelter when we heard the siren, then heard two really strong
blasts that made the house shake. It had hit the house across the street
from ours. There were gas balloons where the rockets had fallen, and we
thought we'd have to evacuate. We were running around barefoot in our
pajamas, and there were a few moments of real panic, with ambulances,
police, police sapper units, and bulldozers digging out the rocket.

Many Sderot residents moved away due to fear of rocket strikes. “I know a
lot of people with children who got up and left” during the fighting,
Seidler said.

Rotem Ochana, 25, an employee at Sapir College, said that a rocket hit the
basketball court across the street from his house. He also witnessed several
interceptions of rockets by Israel's “Iron Dome” anti-rocket system on
November 16, while driving near the Ad Halom junction outside Ashdod. He
said:

The sirens began, so I pulled over, and there was a bus and two other
private cars that also stopped on the side of the road with me. There were
four sirens in a row, and we saw all the interceptions over our head. I saw
two kids running from place to place and a hysterical mother trying to grab
them. Once the sirens ended, I got back in the car to get to a shelter, and
a fragment from the interception fell and broke my windshield on the
driver's side. After that, I didn't leave the house again until everything
calmed down. It made me realize how bad it must be on the other side [for
Gaza residents] where they have no sirens or shelters.

Ashkelon
In response to questions from Human Rights Watch, the Ashkelon municipality
spokesperson said that 36 rockets struck the city during the November
fighting, and that Israel's “Iron Dome” system intercepted an additional 60
rockets that would otherwise have hit.

Rockets seriously damaged the Mekif Bet and Ronson schools in the central
Kiryat Hachinuch area. Shrapnel from the rocket traumatically amputated a
man's foot near Zipora House, a building across the street from the Rambam
religious school. Shrapnel also penetrated and severely damaged the car he
had been driving, the spokesperson said.

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