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From the field

June 22, 2006: Israeli Air Force Attack in Gaza – Grave Suspicion of War Crime

The Israeli Air Force fired missiles again yesterday into a residential neighborhood in the Gaza Strip. The missile fire, which hit a home in Khan Yunis, killed a 35 year old woman, Fatmeh Ahmad, and her brother Zachariya Ahmad, 48, and injured 11 others, among them 6 children.

Since 20 May 2006, 25 civilians who took no part in the fighting, including 7 children, have been killed by IDF missile fire in the Gaza Strip.

The circumstances of this incident, as well as the circumstances of previous incidents this month, raise the grave suspicion that this was a disproportionate attack. Attacks of this kind are defined as a war crime. B'Tselem wrote the IDF Judge Advocate General demanding that a Military Police Investigation be opened immediately regarding all those responsible for the operation, including the Chief of Staff and the Commander of the Air Force.

The principle of proportionality, a central pillar of international humanitarian law to which Israel is obligated, prohibits conducting an attack, even against a legitimate military target, if it is known that the attack will cause harm to civilians that is excessive compared to the anticipated military advantage. Israel bears the burden of proof that a particular attack was expected to achieve a military advantage significant enough to justify harming civilians. This burden of proof also requires proof that there was no reasonable alternative to the attack. Violation of the principle of proportionality is defined as a war crime, and therefore carries individual criminal liability for those responsible.

The missiles were launched in the heart of a residential neighborhood. Those planning the attack should therefore have expected that innocent civilians would be harmed, particularly given the incidents that have taken place during the past month. All of these facts raise the grave suspicion that yesterday's operation was a disproportionate attack of a nature defined as a war crime.