The international human rights organisation issued its conclusions on Tuesday after investigating three Israeli air raids that it said killed 62 Palestinian civilians. It concluded that “there were no evident military targets in the vicinity” of the attacks, according to Al Jazeera.
The report focused on Israeli actions during the fighting, and the group said it would issue a separate report on the actions of Hamas and other Palestinian anti-occupation resistance groups in August.
“Israeli forces carried out attacks in Gaza in May that devastated entire families without any apparent military target nearby,” said Gerry Simpson, associated crisis and conflict director at HRW on the organisation’s website.
There was no immediate reaction to the report by the Israeli military, which has claimed its attacks were aimed at military targets in Gaza.
Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, fired rockets towards Israel after the latter ignored an ultimatum demanding Israel stand down its security forces from the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Al-Quds after days of violence against Palestinian protesters.
Israeli security forces had been violently suppressing demonstrations against Israel’s raids and attacks on worshippers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, and the threatened expulsion of dozens of Palestinian families in favour of settlers in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.
According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, some 260 people were killed in Gaza, including at least 67 children and 39 women. Twelve civilians, including two children, were killed in Israel, along with one soldier.
The HRW report said the most serious Israeli air attack, on May 16, involved a series of attacks on Al-Wahda Street, a central thoroughfare in Gaza City. The air raids destroyed three apartment buildings and killed a total of 44 civilians, HRW said, including 18 children and 14 women. Twenty-two of the dead were members of a single family, the Al-Kawlaks.
Israel has claimed that the attacks were aimed at tunnels used by Hamas fighters in the area and that the damage to the homes was unintentional.
In its investigation, HRW concluded that Israel had used US-made GBU-31 precision-guided bombs and had not warned any of the residents to evacuate the area ahead of time. It also it found no evidence of military targets in the area.
“An attack that is not directed at a specific military objective is unlawful,” it wrote.
The investigation also looked at a May 10 explosion that killed eight people, including six children, near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It said the two adults were civilians.
The report noted that Human Rights Watch found no evidence of a military target at or near the site of the strike.
The third attack it investigated occurred on May 15, in which an Israeli air raid destroyed a three-storey building in Gaza’s Shati refugee camp. The attack killed 10 people, two women and eight children.
HRW investigators determined the building was hit by a US-made guided missile. Israel has claimed that senior Hamas officials were hiding in the building but HRW said it found no evidence of a military target at or near the site and called for an investigation into whether there was a legitimate military objective and “all feasible precautions” were taken to avoid civilian casualties.