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Rights group: Israel killed unarmed Palestinians

Jen Thomas | Associated Press

13 August 2009

A new report by Human Rights Watch charged Thursday that Israeli soldiers killed eleven unarmed Palestinian civilians who were carrying white flags in shooting incidents during Israel’s offensive in Gaza earlier this year.

The report says the civilians included five women and four children. The group urged Israel to conduct investigations into the deaths, which it said occurred when the civilians were “in plain view and posed no apparent security threat.”

The group says at least three witnesses confirmed the details in each of the seven separate shootings.

The report is the latest in a slew of charges from human rights groups alleging that Israel violated the rules of war in its Gaza offensive. The reports on the Gaza war have focused on Israeli violations, but Human Rights Watch has also said Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups violated the rules of war by firing thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians.

Israel says groups like Human Rights Watch are unfairly singling it out and has criticized the methodology of reports based largely on Palestinian testimony. Israel says it did not deliberately target civilians and that noncombatants were killed because Hamas militants took cover, fired rockets and stored ammunition in crowded residential areas.

In a response to the report, the Israeli military said its soldiers were obligated to avoid harming anyone waving a white flag but that in some cases Hamas militants had used civilians with white flags for cover.

“Any person who displays a white flag in this way acts illegally, does not enjoy protection from retaliatory action, and endangers nearby civilian populations,” the military said.

Last month, the Israeli government released its own report defending its use of force in Gaza. The report says Israel is investigating five alleged cases in which soldiers killed civilians carrying white flags, incidents that it said resulted in 10 deaths.

Two of the five incidents were among those mentioned by Human Rights Watch.

Both Israel and the Palestinians acknowledge that more than 1,100 Gazans were killed in the Israeli offensive. Palestinians say most were civilians. Israel says most were armed militants, but has not released evidence to back up that claim.

Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians were killed during the Gaza war.

Shortly after the new report was released, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev questioned the organization’s objectivity.

Regev did not directly comment on the Gaza allegations, instead referring to a recent flap over Human Rights Watch’s fundraising activities in Saudi Arabia. The group came under fire for reportedly highlighting its criticism of Israel at a meeting attended by several Saudi officials.

This, Regev said, “raises important questions about the organization’s impartiality, professionalism and credibility.”