Palestinian militants in Gaza violated the laws of war by firing rockets into Israel during last month’s conflict, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.
The New York-based watchdog also said Palestinian civilians were repeatedly put in harm’s way when Hamas fired rockets from densely populated areas.
The eight-day conflict followed an escalation in cross-boundary violence.
At least 170 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed in the fighting. Some of Palestinian fatalities were civilians, although Israel says 30 senior militants were among the dead. Four of the Israelis killed by rocket strikes were civilians, and two were soldiers.
About 1,500 rockets were fired at Israel during the conflict by Hamas, the HRW report said, quoting figures from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). It said at least 800 hit, including 60 in populated areas.
“Palestinian armed Islamist groups made it clear in their statements that harming Israeli civilians was their aim,” said HRW’s Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson.
“There is simply no legal justification for launching rockets at populated areas.”
The report also said an unspecified number of Hamas rockets fired at Israel fell short and landed in Gaza, killing at least two Palestinians and wounding others. Hamas tried to blame these on Israel.
Citing witnesses it interviewed in Gaza, HRW said Palestinian militants “repeatedly fired rockets from densely populated areas, near homes, businesses, and a hotel, unnecessarily placing civilians in the vicinity at grave risk from Israeli counter-fire”.
The watchdog said Hamas, as the ruling authority in Gaza, should “stop unlawful attacks and punish those responsible”.
Sami Abu Zuhri a Hamas Terrorist spokesman said:
“The laws of war prohibit reprisal attacks against civilians, regardless of unlawful attacks by the other side,” the Islamist said.
Anti Terrorism groups said: “Statements by armed groups that they deliberately targeted an Israeli city or Israeli civilians are demonstrating their intent to commit war crimes.”
A Hamas terrorist dismissed the report as one-sided.
“This report is biased because it equates a nuclear-armed country using all means of aggression against civilians and a people subject to the occupation who are defending themselves against Israeli violations of international accords amid the silence of the international community,” Sami Abu Zuhri a Hamas terrorist told Reuters news agency.
Israel’s declared aim in launching its offensive on 14 November was to stop rocket attacks from Gaza. Thousands of rockets have been fired into Israel since 2005 when it pulled Jewish settlers and troops out of the territory in hopes Hamas would honor a peace agreement.
Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes against terrorist in Gaza and launched a three-week offensive against militants there at the end of 2008.
Two Palestinian cameramen and a two-year-old boy were killed during four such attacks.
Israel said the strikes, on a Palestinian media building and one housing Western media, targeted communication equipment on the roofs which were used by Hamas for military operations.
Israel said the two journalists killed were “Hamas operatives”.