Last updated: 11 July, 2014

Israeli strikes on Palestinian homes could breach laws of war

Israel could be violating the laws of war by bombing Palestinian homes in Gaza, the UN’s human rights office said Friday, as the death toll from the Israeli strikes rose to 100.

“We have received disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes,” said spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani.

“Such reports raise doubts about whether the Israeli air strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” she told reporters.

International humanitarian law is UN-speak for the laws of war, and Shamdasani said targeting homes was a violation unless the buildings were being used for military purposes and even then, restrictions apply.

The death toll from Israeli airstrikes on Gaza hit 100 on Friday, including a woman and a seven-year-old child who were killed by the bombing of the home of an Islamic militant.

Operation Protective Edge, which Israel launched on Tuesday, is the deadliest violence between the countries since November 2012, while Palestinian militants have fired rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and even as far north as Haifa.

“In case of doubt, buildings that are ordinarily used for civilian purposes, such as homes, are presumed not to be legitimate military targets,” Shamdasani said.

Homes can only be fired on if they have been identified as being used for military purposes, and even then an attack must be “proportionate” and civilians should be protected, she added.

Israel has accused Palestinian militants, including the Islamist group Hamas, of deliberately placing military installations in densely-populated Gaza in order to use civilians as human shields.

Shamdasani condemned their attacks on Israeli civilian areas, which have injured less than a dozen people.

“On the Israeli side, however, their responsiblity in international law is very specific,” Shamdasani said.

“If there is even an iota of a doubt, homes are not legitimate military targets. And if these homes are being used for military purposes, attacks must be proportionate, and precautions must be taken.”

UN rights chief Navi Pillay on Friday urged both sides to “abandon their poisonous rhetoric and deadly tit-for-tat behaviour in favour of a peaceful resolution to this impasse”.

“Israel, Hamas, and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza have been down this road before, and it has led only to death, destruction, distrust and a painful prolongation of the conflict,” Pillay said in a written statement.

“This time around, once again, civilians are bearing the brunt of the conflict. I urge all sides to steadfastly respect their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law to protect civilians,” she said.

She also called for a thorough and effective investigation for “every alleged breach of international law.”