Killing protected civilians with impunity

The killing on Monday of 14 Palestinians, including 8 children, in the al-Daraj neighbourhood of Gaza city was another escalation in the Israeli military assault against the Palestinian civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The missile strike against the apartment building in a densely populated neighbourhood in the city was the latest attack in the Israeli government’s official political assassination policy. These political assassinations have been heavily criticized for a number of reasons, not least because of the increasing number of civilian causalities.

Previously the assassinations have been carried out using sniper fire, helicopter gunships, tanks and explosive devices. Including this latest attack, since Autumn 2000 there have been at least 81 such assassinations, resulting in the deaths of 92 targeted and 52 non-targeted civilians, including 19 children and 11 women.

In responding to the recent statements of the Sharon government and the Israeli military that they had not foreseen the deaths of civilians resulting from this attack, PCHR wishes to reassert the following facts;

The target of the attack, Palestinian activist and member of Hamas, Sheikh Salah Shehada, was targeted whilst in his house in a residential street in a densely populated neighbourhood in Gaza city. The two-story apartment building in which Shehada was targeted was directly adjacent to another three-story apartment building. The surrounding buildings were all civilian properties, mostly residential. The Shehada’s apartment building and another behind it were totally destroyed, the apartment building adjacent, where the largest number of victims were sleeping, was seriously damaged. Other residential buildings in the street were damaged.

The weapon used was reportedly a one ton missile, fired from an F16 fighter jet.

The attack took place just before midnight as the residents of the targeted building and the surrounding apartments were sleeping at home.

14 Palestinians were killed, including 8 children. More than 70 others were wounded.

These facts stand in the face of Israeli statements that when ordering the attack, the Prime Minister and Defence Minister and others had not anticipated that there would be civilian casualties. The facts regarding the manner, the timing and the means of this attack clearly demonstrate that this was an indiscriminate attack in a civilian area. The Israeli authorities could not have believed that this attack would have failed to cause any civilian casualties. At the very least the conclusions to be drawn are that the Israeli authorities have shown a total disregard for civilian life.

The launching of an indiscriminate attack affecting the civilian population or civilian objects in the knowledge that such attack will cause excessive loss of life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, namely a war crime, as defined in Additional Protocol 1.

This incident was the second time F16s have been used in the assassinations of Palestinian activists (the first was conducted two weeks ago) and there is little to indicate that this will be the last such attack. Indeed, the ongoing failure of the international community to take concrete steps to reign in Israel’s ongoing systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in accordance with their own legal and moral obligations has actually allowed the creation of a culture of total impunity for such actions, thereby effectively encouraging the escalation of the violations which Israel perpetrates against Palestinian civilians.

Palestinian Center for Human Rights, 29 Omar al-Mukhtar St, PO Box 1328, Gaza, Telefax: 972 8 282 4776, 972 8 282 5893, 972 8 282 3725, Email:, web: