Human Rights Watch says soldiers killed unarmed Palestinians during January offensive.
It has begun by targeting HRW, as well as a local group of dissident army veterans, Breaking the Silence, which last month published the testimonies of 26 Israeli soldiers who served in Gaza.
The “white flags” report published by HRW examines seven incidents during Israel’s military offensive in Gaza in January in which soldiers shot and killed 11 Palestinians, most of them women and children, and wounded others.
“The Israeli military should conduct thorough, credible investigations into these deaths to tackle the prevailing culture of impunity,” it said.
The HRW said the 11 people were only a small fraction of the total number of civilians and combatants killed in the December-January Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.
“However, these deaths stand out because the civilians were in groups waving a white cloth, T-shirt or scarf, and no Palestinian fighters were in the area at the time,” the report said.
“Under the laws of war, individuals who carry out or order deliberate attacks on civilians are responsible for war crimes.”
In one of the cases mentioned, two women and three children were standing in front of their home after a soldier ordered them outside.
At least three of them were holding pieces of white cloth when a soldier opened fire, killing two girls aged two and seven and wounding the third girl and their grandmother.
“We spent seven to nine minutes waving the flags, and our faces were looking at them,” the grandmother, who was shot twice, was quoted as saying.
“And suddenly they opened fire and the girls fell to the ground.”
In five of the seven incidents detailed in the HRW report, Israeli soldiers shot at civilians who were walking down the street with white flags, trying to leave areas of fighting.
Avital Leibovich, a spokesperson for the Israeli army, told Al Jazeera: “When you have reports that are based on Palestinian hearsay and testimonies that we are not sure how credible they are – it raises many questions.
“The allegations in this report is absurd of course, we have evidence showing Hamas armed militants walking around groups holding white flags. We do not shoot children.”
Mark Regev, the Israeli government’s spokesman, also rejected the HRW report.
“We think a lot of their criticism was simply off-base it was simply incorrect it almost was as if it was politically-motivated,” he said.
“I think they have an agenda, a political agenda that affects their human-rights work.”
Adding his voice to the criticism, Gerald Steinberg, of NGO Monitor, said: “The release of a third lengthy publication condemning Israel over Gaza within the space of a few months, is reflective of HRW’s Israel obsession.
“Its timing – only a week after criticising Hamas – confirms that this was no more than a token attempt by HRW to display artificial balance. If the methodology and ideology repeat past ‘reports’, this will be more evidence of HRW’s moral collapse in promoting the agendas of Hamas and Hezbollah.”
Earlier this month, HRW published a report on the Gaza war in which it said rocket attacks carried out against Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian groups amounted to war crimes.
Israel and Hamas have both rejected accusations of war crimes.
The Israeli military said last month it was investigating incidents in which soldiers allegedly killed civilians holding white flags, but HRW says “Israel’s poor record on investigations makes objective probes unlikely.
|Israel and Hamas have both rejected accusations of war crimes [AFP]|
“Field investigations typically consist of asking soldiers to question other soldiers, without seeking or considering testimony from external witnesses, and taking exculpatory claims of soldiers at face value,” the report says of the military investigations.
Bill Van Esselt, from Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera: “We are seen unfortunately as an enemy rather than as a critic and that’s unfortunate because we are a critic.
“What would be great is if they [Israel] could focus on what we actually say and what we actually do rather than on trying to spin it in a way to make it out as if we’re biased, as if we’re not being critical equally of governments wherever we see abuses.”
The Israeli military is conducting 15 criminal investigations into troop conduct during its three-week offensive on Gaza in which 1,400 Palestinians died, including allegations children were used as human shields.
Israel has said that so far evidence shows troops “pursued legitimate objectives with appropriate precautions,” while the Palestinian Hamas group ruling Gaza committed “grave violations of international law.”
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