Israeli drones targeted civilians in Gaza: Rights group

JERUSALEM - Israel killed 87 civilians, including at least eight children, during its offensive against Gaza militants last winter, with missiles fired from remote pilotless vehicles (RPVs), Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report Tuesday.

The report, titled “Precisely Wrong: Gaza civilians killed by Israeli drone-launched missiles”, details six specific incidents which resulted in 29 civilian deaths.

In all, Israeli and Palestinian Human Rights Groups have reported a total of 42 drone attacks, which killed 87 civilians during the Dec 28, 2008-Jan 18, 2009 offensive, HRW said.

“The attacks with one of the most precise weapons in Israel’s arsenal killed civilians who were not taking part in hostilities and were far from any fighting,” the report said.

“Human Rights Watch found that Israeli forces failed to take all feasible precautions to verify that these targets were combatants, as required by the laws of war, or that they failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians,” HRW said.

In response, the Israeli military said that the HRW report “is questionable, given that it is based on anonymous Palestinian sources who lack credibility, whose knowledge of military issues is doubtful, and, on the other hand, are clearly not impartial observers and form part of the Gaza propaganda system”.

A statement from the military spokesman’s office noted that it was “surprising” that HRW chose to base its report “entirely on reports by Palestinian witnesses” and “chose to ignore the extensive efforts taken by the Israel Defence Force (IDF) to avoid causing harm to non-combatants”.

According to HRW, the report is based on field research in Gaza, including interviews with “victims and witnesses”, and examination of attack sites, missile debris, and medical records.

HRW said the Israeli military also turned down repeated requests for a meeting and did not respond to questions submitted in writing.

“Drone operators can clearly see their targets on the ground and also divert their missiles after launch,” Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report, said. “Given these capabilities, Israel needs to explain why these civilian deaths took place.”

In the six cases documented in the report, HRW said it found no evidence that Palestinian militants were present in the immediate area of the attacks at the time.

Further, it reported that civilians who were killed were not moving quickly or fleeing the area, so the operators of the RPVs could have “time to determine whether they were observing civilians or combatants.”

The Israeli statement said in response that during the Gaza assault “the IDF made use of advanced technology, tactics and weapon systems which minimized the risk to non-combatants and civilian property”.

“The IDF acted exclusively against military targets, and strived to minimize the harm caused to civilian population, at times at the expense of its own military interests,” the statement said.

Israel launched its “Operation Cast Lead” against Palestinian militants in Gaza Dec 28, 2008, in an attempt to end repeated missile attacks against its southern towns and villages.

During the offensive, some 1,470 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, were killed, Gazan-based Palestinian human rights groups say.

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