At least 135 civilians, including 75 children, were killed by the Israeli military in the southern Gaza border town of Rafah in the first week of August last year, Amnesty International said, in a report released Wednesday. The human rights group analyzed hundreds of videos, photos and satellite images and interviewed several eyewitnesses of the “Black Friday” offensive in Rafah.
“There is strong evidence that Israeli forces committed war crimes in their relentless and massive bombardment of residential areas of Rafah in order to foil the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, displaying a shocking disregard for civilian lives,” Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International, said in a statement, referring to the attempted capture of the Israeli soldier Goldin by Hamas. Goldin, who was reportedly dragged into a tunnel after an ambush, was killed when the Israeli military invoked the “Hannibal directive” -- which allows for the use of maximum force to prevent soldiers from being captured by enemy forces, even at the risk of endangering the lives of the captive soldiers.
“They [Israel Defense Forces] carried out a series of disproportionate or otherwise indiscriminate attacks, which they have completely failed to investigate independently,” Luther said in the statement, adding that there was “compelling evidence” of serious violations of international humanitarian law by Israeli forces during the offensive in Rafah.
“Palestinian witnesses described jets, drones, helicopters and artillery raining fire at pedestrians and vehicles at the intersections, indiscriminately hitting cars, ambulances, motorbikes and pedestrians,” Amnesty alleged in the report co-authored by Forensic Architecture, a research project based in Goldsmiths, University of London. “The ferocity of the attacks, which continued after Lieutenant Goldin was declared dead on 2 August, suggests they may in part have been motivated by a desire to punish the population of Rafah as revenge for his capture.”
Israel, however, denounced the report, calling it “fundamentally flawed” and a sign of Amnesty’s “compulsive obsessiveness” with Israel.
“When one reads the Report, the impression is given that the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] was fighting against itself – as there is almost no mention of the military actions of Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations,” the Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. “Amnesty builds a false narrative.”
Last year’s war in the densely populated Gaza Strip began on July 8 and lasted for 50 days. During this period, over 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 1,400 civilians, were killed. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and 7 civilians died in rocket fire from the enclave.
Both sides in the bloody conflict -- Israeli military and Hamas -- have been, in the past, accused of war crimes and putting the lives of civilians at risk. In a report released in June, the United Nations accused Hamas and other Palestinian factions of indiscriminate rocket and mortar fire on Israeli cities and executing Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel. It also accused the Israeli military of deliberately targeting civilian homes and using excessive artillery fire in residential areas.