April 13, 2024

Human Rights Watch says 54 children among dead in ‘unlawful’ attack on residential building on October 31.

An “unlawful” Israeli air attack that killed 106 people in a residential building in central Gaza on October 31, 2023, was an “apparent war crime”, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.

The inquiry was based on testimonies from 16 people the group spoke to between January and March, satellite images, dozens of photographs and videos from the site, as well as those shared on social media, the international rights group said on Thursday as it released the findings of its investigation.

It called on governments to suspend weapons transfers to Israel and support the International Criminal Court’s (ICC’s) investigation in Palestine, saying the attack was among the “deadliest single incidents for civilians” since Israel’s war on Gaza started in October.

Witnesses said 350 or more people were staying in the Engineers’ Building, south of the Nuseirat refugee camp, when four aerial munitions struck it that afternoon within about 10 seconds, without warning. At least 150 people were seeking shelter after fleeing their homes elsewhere in Gaza.

The building was demolished.

The New York-based group said it found no evidence of a military target in the vicinity of the building when the attack took place, which according to HRW made the air attack “unlawfully indiscriminate”.

The victims included “children playing football, residents charging phones in the ground-floor grocery store, and displaced families seeking safety”, HRW’s associate crisis and conflict director Gerry Simpson said.

“This strike inflicted massive civilian casualties without an apparent military target – one of scores of attacks causing overwhelming carnage, and highlighting the urgency of the ICC probe.”

HRW said the Israeli authorities have not publicly provided any information about the attack, “including the intended target and any precautions to minimise harm to civilians”.

More than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel launched its military operation in the enclave following the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on October 7. The death toll in Israel stands at 1,139, with dozens still held captive in Gaza.

“The staggering number of Palestinian deaths, mostly women and children, shows deadly disregard for civilian life and points to many more possible war crimes that need to be investigated,” Simpson said.

“Other governments should press the Israeli government to end unlawful attacks, and immediately halt arms transfers to Israel to save civilian lives and avoid complicity in war crimes.”

The United States has defended the transfer of billions of dollars worth of bombs and fighter jets to its ally, reasserting its commitment to Israel’s security, even as it publicly expresses concerns about the long-threatened Israeli invasion of Gaza’s Rafah and the rising civilian casualties in the enclave.

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing growing political pressure to halt arms exports to Israel after seven aid workers from the charity World Central Kitchen were killed in an Israeli air attack in Gaza as international outrage grows.

HRW said governments that continue to provide arms to Israel “risk complicity in war crimes”.

“They should also use their leverage, including through targeted sanctions, to press Israeli authorities to cease committing grave abuses,” it said.

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