Middle East

Israel orders criminal investigations into Gaza war incidents

A piece of cloth lies in a pool of blood outside a UN-operated school after an Israeli attack in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza - 24 July 2014 Image copyright EPA
Image caption The UN school in Beit Hanoun was hit during a day of heavy fighting

Israel's military attorney general has ordered criminal investigations into five incidents in the recent Gaza war.

They include the killing of four Palestinian children on a beach and the shelling of a United Nations school.

At least 13 people were killed in the school in Beit Hanoun - which was being used as a shelter for displaced people - and dozens were injured.

At the time, the Israeli military said an "errant mortar" hit the school but did not cause the deaths.

The announcement comes as Israel faces other international investigations related to the fighting with Palestinian militants that ended two weeks ago.

The latest conflict left over 2,100 Palestinians dead, most of them civilians according to UN and Palestinian officials.

Israel says about 1,000 militants were among the dead. It blames the high civilian death toll on Hamas fighters setting up bases and launching rockets from residential areas, including schools and mosques, so drawing return fire.

On the Israeli side, 66 soldiers and seven civilians were killed.

Internal reviews

At a briefing with journalists, a senior Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer gave details of the five cases under examination for possible criminal wrongdoing.

He said the IDF carried out two air strikes near the Gaza City port on 16 July where four fishermen's children were killed while playing.

However he said that the circumstances of the attack on the school in Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza on 24 July, were still unclear.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Israel says it fired back at militants who deliberately attacked from civilian sites

The three other incidents involved:

  • the fatal shooting of a Palestinian woman who had co-ordinated her escape from an area of fighting with the IDF
  • Israeli soldiers' alleged mistreatment and use of a Palestinian teenager as a human shield
  • an accusation of theft from a private home in Shejaiya.

The officer said no decision had yet been made on whether to open a criminal investigation into the heavy shelling that killed 150 Palestinians in the southern Rafah area on 1 August after the suspected capture by Hamas militants of an Israeli soldier.

In total, Israel's armed forces investigative teams are looking into 102 incidents.

The internal inquiries could help Israel fight back against international investigations. In August, the Israeli State Comptroller, also announced an examination of military decision-making in the latest Gaza operations and the army's own review mechanisms.

International inquiries

Israel is facing a series of steps in the international arena in the wake of the Gaza conflict.

The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to take Israel to the International Criminal Court, while the UN Human Rights Council has set up a commission of inquiry into possible war crimes committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian militants.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has ordered a separate inquiry into the targeting of UN schools being used as temporary shelters and the storage of Hamas weapons in others.

New York-based Human Rights Watch carried out its own research into what it says were Israeli attacks that damaged UN schools in Beit Hanoun, Jabaliya and Rafah, killing a total of 45 people, including 17 children.

The human rights group says that the first two attacks "did not appear to target a military objective or were otherwise unlawfully indiscriminate" and that the third incident was "unlawfully disproportionate if not otherwise indiscriminate".

It adds that "unlawful attacks carried out wilfully - that is deliberately or recklessly - are war crimes."

At the time, Israel said an initial inquiry indicated soldiers responded to mortar fire coming from the vicinity of the school in Jabaliya. It said preliminary results of its own investigation into the incident in Rafah showed that there was fighting in the vicinity of the school but that no shells landed in the facility.