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From the field

July 12, 2006: Killing of 9 members of the Abu Selmiyeh family in Gaza bombing: Grave suspicion of a war crime

At about 4:00 a.m. on July 12, an Israeli air force plane bombed a three-story building in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood in Gaza city. The bomb caused the building to collapse and killed Nabil and Salwah

Abu Selmiyeh, who lived in the building that was bombed, and seven of their children: Nasrallah, age 4; Aya, age 7; Yihya, age 9; Ayman, age 12; Huda, age 14; Sumayah, age 16; and Basma, age 17. Another son, 'Awad, age 19, was moderately injured. In addition, another 40 people who lived in the adjacent buildings were injured.

According the IDF Spokesperson's statement, the house that was shelled "served as a hideout for senior activist in the Hamas military wing, including Muhammad Deif who was in the building at the time of the attack. At the time, those  present were planning the continued military activity of Hamas." According to media reports, the father of the family, Nabil Abu Salmiya, who was killed, was a lecturer at the Islamic University and a Hamas activist. However, the IDF statement does not mention Nabil or Salwah Abu Selmiyeh

by name, nor any of their seven children killed in the bombing. As in similar cases in the past, the military has not provided evidence or additional details to explain or justify the killing of innocent civilians.

Considering the location of  the building in the heart of a crowded neighborhood, the fact that the building itself housed a family of ten, and the time chosen for the attack - in the early hours of the morning - those who planned the bombing should have known that widespread harm to civilians was inevitable.

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 circumstances of this incident, and the consequences raise the grave suspicion that the bombing was a disproportionate attack, of a nature defined as a war crime. B'Tselem turned to the Israeli Judge Advocate General requesting that he immediately initiate a Military Police Investigation against those responsible for this bombing, including the IDF Chief of Staff and the Commander of the Air Force.