Israel must stop shooting at Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch said Friday, noting four have been killed near the border fence since the beginning of 2014.
A report by the New York-based watchdog cited UN data which also said more than 60 civilians were wounded by Israeli gunfire near the perimeter fence of the Palestinian enclave ruled by the Islamist Hamas.
It focused on seven incidents between January 2 and March 1, in which the four were killed and five others wounded, “none of whom posed a threat to the soldiers or others”.
HRW noted that “Palestinians living in the densely inhabited Gaza Strip use land near the fence with Israel for agriculture, collecting rubble, scrap metal, and other reusable materials, and recreation.”
“Month after month, Israeli forces have wounded and killed unarmed Palestinians who did nothing but cross an invisible, shifting line that Israel has drawn inside Gaza’s perimeter,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director.
Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli army, did not challenge the facts but slammed the report which he said “completely ignored the reality of the state of conflict we have with Gaza, the perimeter with which is a springboard for terrorism from the Strip”.
“The statement ridicules human rights. This week alone we’ve had numerous attacks emerging from the immediate perimeter of the fence,” he said.
“They don’t magically arrive there,” Lerner said of the perpetrators.
He also referred to “terror tunnels” from Gaza and projectiles fired at southern Israel.
The military spokesman said “the 100-metre (yard) limit” from the border fence, which was agreed upon under the terms reached after an eight-day confrontation between Israel and Hamas militants in November 2012, was “known and widespread”.
“People approaching the fence are putting themselves at risk,” Lerner added, noting the army fires warning shots before aiming at people.
HRW maintained in its report: “While firing warning shots may reduce the likelihood of shooting a civilian, a failure to heed warning shots does not turn a civilian into a lawful military target.”
Lerner also implicitly accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of not preventing the bloody border incidents.
“In the past they’ve proven that when they want to prevent access to the fence they’ve actually acted against it and done that,” he said.