Human Rights Watch: Israel Bombing of Gaza High-Rises Are Possible 'War Crimes'

An Israeli airstrike destroys a high-rise building in Gaza City that housed several media outlets, including the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera. (Photo: Nidal Alwaheidi/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Human Rights Watch: Israel Bombing of Gaza High-Rises Are Possible 'War Crimes'

"The crushing closure of the Gaza Strip needs to end, along with the impunity that fuels ongoing serious abuses."

Human Rights Watch said Monday that the Israeli military's May bombings that leveled four high-rise buildings in Gaza were "apparently unlawful" and possibly amount to war crimes.

The organization--which noted that those strikes represented "just a small fraction of the Israeli military's attacks in Gaza" in the May 10 to May 21 fighting--cited in its new analysis a lack of any evidence to back up Israeli authorities' claims that the buildings were being used by Hamas for military purposes The report also noted the disproportionate harm to civilian property caused by the Israeli attacks.

For its latest analysis of attacks during the 11-day assault, HRW reviewed video and photo evidence of the aftermath of the bombardments and conducted interviews with victims and eyewitnesses.

"The apparently unlawful Israeli strikes on four high-rise towers in Gaza City caused serious, lasting harm for countless Palestinians who lived, worked, shopped, or benefitted from businesses based there," said Richard Weir, crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

"The Israeli military should publicly produce the evidence that it says it relied on to carry out these attacks," he said.

At issue are strikes on the Hanadi, al-Jawhara, al-Shorouk, and al-Jalaa towers. The latter housed offices of media outlets including Al Jazeera English and the Associated Press.

The four towers also included residences and numerous businesses including doctors' offices.

While no deaths were reported for the attacks on the four towers, unlike other Israeli military strikes in May, the destruction appeared "consistent with the use of munitions with large high-explosive warheads," said HRW. "These explosive weapons produced wide-area effects, resulting in tpresche complete destruction or serious damage to each of the towers and damage to surrounding areas, including to homes, businesses, and infrastructure."

In addition to displacing thousands, the attacks "destroyed civilian property worth millions of U.S. dollars," the human rights group said.

Forty-five-year old computer engineer Nihad Abdellatif Taha, who had a programming and digital marketing company, Portals, described the devasation to HRW.

"I had 36 employees and we were renting two apartments--360 square meters with furniture, offices, meeting rooms, surveillance cameras--all of this is gone," he said. "In addition to very important documents, all the company's papers are gone, including stamps and the employees' contracts--all gone."

The new analysis also pushes back on the Israeli military's contention that Hamas used parts of any of the buildings for "military research and development" or "military intelligence" purposes.

"Human Rights Watch found no evidence that members of Palestinian groups involved in military operations had a current or long-term presence in any of the towers at the time they were attacked," the group said. What's more, "even if there were such a presence, the attacks appeared to cause foreseeably disproportionate harm to civilian property."

Weir, in his statement, said reconstruction for Palestinians requires not just ending Israel's repeated--and ongoing--attacks on Gaza but termination of the blockade.

"Throughout the May hostilities, unlawful Israeli strikes not only killed many civilians, but also destroyed high-rise towers, wiping out scores of businesses and homes, upending the lives of thousands of Palestinians," Weir said.

"Donor funding alone will not rebuild Gaza," he said. "The crushing closure of the Gaza Strip needs to end, along with the impunity that fuels ongoing serious abuses."

Israel's May attacks on Gaza has also come under the scrutiny of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who said that they "may constitute war crimes."

"Despite Israel's claims that many of these buildings were hosting armed groups or being used for military purposes," she said in May, "we have not seen evidence in this regard."

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