Israel/OPT: civilians must be protected after unprecedented escalation in violence

© Reuters/Mohammed Salem

‘We are deeply alarmed by the mounting civilian death tolls in Gaza, Israel and the occupied West Bank’ - Agnès Callamard

Israeli security forces and Palestinian armed groups must make every effort to protect the lives of civilians in today’s major outbreak of fighting in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, said Amnesty International amid a mounting civilian death toll. 

Today’s escalation in violence began with Hamas firing rockets into Israel and launching an unprecedented operation by its fighters into southern Israel. 

Israel’s retaliatory attack on Gaza has killed at least 232 people and injured nearly 1,700, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. 

Israeli media have reported at least 250 deaths and Israel’s health ministry has reported that more than 1,500 people had been injured in attacks by Palestinian armed groups.

The Israeli military told media outlets that Israeli civilians - reportedly including children - as well as soldiers have been abducted by Palestinian armed groups and taken hostage. The abduction of civilians and hostage-taking are prohibited by international law and can constitute war crimes. All civilians held hostage must be released immediately, unconditionally, and unharmed. All those held captive must be treated humanely in accordance with international law and granted medical treatment. 

The root causes of these repeated cycles of violence must be addressed as a matter of urgency. This requires upholding international law and ending Israel’s 16-year-long illegal blockade on Gaza, and all other aspects of Israel’s system of apartheid imposed on Palestinians. The Israeli government must refrain from inciting violence and tensions in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, especially around religious sites. Amnesty is calling on the international community to urgently intervene to protect civilians and prevent further suffering.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: 

“We are deeply alarmed by the mounting civilian death tolls in Gaza, Israel and the occupied West Bank and urgently call on all parties to the conflict to abide by international law and make every effort to avoid further civilian bloodshed. 

“Under international humanitarian law all sides in a conflict have a clear obligation to protect the lives of civilians caught up in the hostilities.

“Deliberately targeting civilians, carrying out disproportionate attacks, and indiscriminate attacks which kill or injure civilians are war crimes. 

“Israel has a horrific track record of committing war crimes with impunity in previous wars on Gaza. 

“Palestinian armed groups from Gaza must refrain from targeting civilians and using indiscriminate weapons, as they have done in the past, and most intensively in this event, acts amounting to war crimes.”

Collective punishment, war crimes and apartheid

Since 2007, Israel has imposed an air, land and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip collectively punishing its entire population. In June this year, Amnesty published an investigation into the May offensive on the Gaza Strip, finding that Israel had unlawfully destroyed Palestinian homes, often without military necessity in what amounted to a form of collective punishment against the civilian population. 

In a major report in 2022, Amnesty showed how Israeli forces have committed in Gaza (as well as in West Bank and Israel) acts prohibited by the Rome Statute and Apartheid Convention as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population with the aim of maintaining a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians, thereby constituting the crime against humanity of apartheid.

In 2021, the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into the situation in the state of Palestine. Its mandate includes crimes under international law committed by all parties in the current fighting, as well as the crime against humanity of apartheid against Palestinians. 

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