B'Tselem expresses grave concern at the large number of children and other uninvolved civilians among those killed and wounded in the Gaza Strip in recent days.
According to B'Tselem figures, from 27 February to the afternoon of 3 March, 106 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip. Contrary to the Chief of Staff's contention that ninety percent were armed, at least fifty-four of the dead (twenty-five of them minors) did not take part in the hostilities. In addition, at least forty-six minors were wounded.
In response to the Defense Minister's initiative to probe the legality of firing at areas from which rockets were being fired, even if the area is populated, B'Tselem reminds the military that attacks on legitimate military targets are prohibited if they are likely to cause disproportionate harm to civilians, or to breach the duty to take caution not to harm civilians. If the military's intention is to allow shelling of general areas or whole neighborhoods from which rockets are fired, such an attack would be indiscriminate and a grave breach of the laws of war.
Given the heavy fighting that only ended this morning, B'Tselem has not been able to conduct a thorough examination of the events. However, initial examination of a few of the many incidents in which civilians were killed raise the grave concern that the Israeli army used excessive and disproportionate force, and failed to distinguish between uninvolved civilians and Palestinians who took part in the fighting. Such attacks may constitute a breach of the laws of war.
- The killing of four children - ‘Ali Dardona, age 8, Muhammad Hamudah, 9, Dardona Dardona, 12, and ‘Omer Dardona - and wounding of two others while they played soccer in the street, east of the Jabalya refugee camp on 28 February. B'Tselem's investigation indicates that Qassam rockets may have been fired earlier about 100 meters from where the children were. However, no armed Palestinians were killed or injured in the incident.
- The killing of Iyad and Jacqueline Muhammad Abu-Shabak, brother and sister, 16 and 17 years old, when they were watching the fighting from the window of their house east of Jabalya. According to testimonies by family members, the two were shot in the head and chest.
- The killing of six-month-old Muhammad al-Bur'i, at the family's home in the Rimal section of Gaza on 27 February, and the wounding of others, in the shelling of the nearby Interior Ministry building. The building is a civilian office building, and not a legitimate military target.
B'Tselem calls on all sides to the fighting, Israeli and Palestinian, to comply strictly with the law, and to do everything in their power to protect civilians who are not taking part in the fighting. Israel has the right and the obligation to protect its citizens from rocket fire, itself a war crime, but it most do so only through legal means which abide by the principles of proportionality and distinction in International Humanitarian Law.