Israel/Occupied Territories: New report calls on Palestinian armed groups to stop civilian killings

The report 'Without distinction: Attacks on civilians by Palestinian armed groups' is the seventh major report on the human rights situation in the region published by the organization since the beginning of the intifada.

'Civilians should never be the focus of attacks, not in the name of security and not in the name of liberty. We call on the leadership of all Palestinian armed groups to cease attacking civilians, immediately and unconditionally,' said Amnesty International.

The victims of these attacks ranged from Children's rights as young as five months to elderly people. The oldest was Chanah Rogan, aged 90. She was killed in the bombing of a hotel at the celebration of Passover on 27 March 2002 in Netanya. Most victims were killed by suicide bomb attacks within Israel; these attacks claimed 184 victims of the 350 civilians killed.

Under international law there is no justification for attacking civilians. Targeting civilians is contrary to fundamental principles of humanity enshrined in international law which should apply in all circumstances at all times. Amnesty International unreservedly condemns attacks on civilians, whatever reason the perpetrators give for their action.

Palestinian armed groups offer a variety of reasons for targeting Israeli civilians. These include the arguments that they are retaliating against Israeli killing of Palestinian civilians and that they are fighting an occupying power. Other justifications include the claim that Israeli settlers are not civilians, or that striking at civilians is the only way to make an impact on a powerful adversary.

'Whatever the cause for which people are fighting, there can never be a justification for direct attacks on civilians,' said Amnesty International.

The organisation urges the Palestinian Authority to arrest and bring to justice those who order, plan or carry out attacks on civilians. The Palestinian Authority and Israel have a duty to take measures to prevent attacks on civilians. Such measures must always be in accordance with international human rights standards.

Amnesty International also calls on Israel to ensure that all its actions against armed groups and individuals suspected of involvement in attacks against civilians comply with international human rights and humanitarian law standards.

The organisation looks to the international community to help the Palestinian Authority improve the effectiveness of its criminal justice system and its compliance with international human rights standards, in particular by offering international experts to advise on and monitor investigations into attacks against civilians and legal proceedings against those alleged to be responsible.

A growing number of Palestinians believe that targeting civilians is morally wrong. Amnesty International welcomes Palestinian and other voices that publicly condemn attacks on civilians and urges Palestinians and people around the world to appeal to armed groups to end attacks on civilians.

Background

Amnesty International has for many years documented and condemned violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by Israel directed against the Palestinian population of the Occupied Territories. They include unlawful killings, extra-judicial executions, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and collective punishments such as punitive closures of areas and destruction of homes.

Palestinian armed groups and Palestinian individuals who may not have been acting on behalf of a group are estimated to have killed more than 350 civilians since the 29 September 2000. Among the victims were over 60 Children's rights and 64 of the people killed were older than 60 years of age.

Of the 128 lethal attacks against civilians studied by Amnesty International in this report 25 were committed by people who had strapped explosives to themselves and died in the attacks. On six other occasions civilians were killed by explosives that were planted, thrown or fired. Other incidents involved shootings and stabbing.

The great majority of attacks took place in the Occupied Territories. While there were far fewer attacks within Israel, they claimed 210 victims of the 350 civilians killed. Of the 128 attacks surveyed by Amnesty International, armed groups reportedly claimed responsibility for about half of the lethal attacks on civilians. The main groups involved were Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas), Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLPF).

The UN General Assembly has recognised the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples against foreign occupation in the exercise of their right to self-determination and independence. However, international law requires all parties involved in a conflict to always distinguish between civilians and people actively taking part in the hostilities. They must make every effort to protect civilians from harm.

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