Mon, Jul 02, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Gaza conflict violates laws of war

INSUFFICIENT REGARDThe Human Rights Watch slammed both Palestinians and Israelis for disregarding the laws of war in its 146-page report on attacks on civilians

AP , GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP AND JERUSALEM

A report released by the Human Rights Watch yesterday stated that Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli towns and Israeli artillery strikes near populated areas in northern Gaza constitute serious violations of the laws of war.

The report spanned the period between September 2005 and May of this year, during which four Israelis and at least 61 Palestinians were killed and some 370 people -- most of them Palestinians -- were wounded.

Palestinian armed groups and Israeli soldiers both have shown "insufficient regard for civilian life," the rights group said in its 146-page report.

Palestinian claims the attacks on civilians are reprisals for Israeli actions are not justification because "reprisals against civilians are always illegal," the report said.

"Tit-for-tat abuses can't be justified by arguing that the other side violated the law first: The laws of war are meant to protect civilians from harm, whatever the reason," said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East division.

In other developments, Israeli aircraft sent missiles hurtling down on Gaza three times on Saturday, killing seven Palestinian militants and sending a clear signal that Israel would not tolerate attacks following Hamas' bloody takeover of the coastal strip.

Around the time of the second strike on Saturday, militants fired two crude rockets that struck the southern Israeli town of Sderot, just over the border from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military said. No injuries were reported.

Earlier in the day, a rocket landed short of Israel, falling in Palestinian territory.

In other developments, Israel put off a planned Palestinian prisoner release and a group allied with Hamas threatened to target the head of the emergency government Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas set up after losing control of Gaza.

Three militants from the Islamic Jihad organization were killed in the first airstrike on a car traveling in the southern town of Khan Younis. The army said the militants were planning a suicide bombing and had been involved in previous suicide attacks against Israel. The militants are also linked to a 2004 infiltration of a military post in Gaza in which one Israeli civilian was killed.

Abu Ahmed, an Islamic Jihad spokesman, said one of the three, Ziad Ghanam, was the group's top leader in southern Gaza. He vowed retaliation.

"We continue our path of resistance until martyrdom or victory," Ahmed said.

The second attack hit a weapons factory in the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, killing four militants, including a father and son, from a violent offshoot of Abbas' Fatah movement.

Abu Thaer, a spokesman for the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, said the father, Salah Quffa, 50, was head of the group's central Gaza operations. Al Aqsa and Islamic Jihad gunmen broke through Gaza's heavily fortified border early last month in a failed attempt to abduct an Israeli soldier and Abu Thaer said Israel targeted men involved in that operation.

The army confirmed an airstrike at the site, saying it went after Islamic Jihad militants involved in previous attacks on Israel.

Aircraft fired missiles at the same place shortly after. Palestinian medical officials said the strike injured five Hamas gunmen guarding the area after the weapons factory was attacked.

The army said it went after an Islamic Jihad arms warehouse. Hamas had no immediate comment.

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