Israeli attacks on hospitals ‘should be investigated as war crimes’: HRW | Israel-Palestine conflict news
Health facilities and ambulances have protected status under international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch emphasizes.
Israel’s repeated attacks on medical facilities, health workers and ambulances in Gaza should be “investigated as war crimes”, the international NGO Human Rights Watch has said.
The Israeli military’s “apparently illegal attacks” are destroying Gaza’s health care system at a time when unprecedented numbers of doctors are seriously injured, and hospitals have run out of medicine and equipment default, the agency said Tuesday.
“Despite claims by the Israeli military on November 5, 2023, about ‘Hamas’ nefarious use of hospitals’, no evidence has been put forward to justify removing hospitals and ambulances from their protected status under international humanitarian law,” HRW said.
A war crime is a serious violation of international humanitarian law, committed with criminal intent. HRW urged the establishment of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Palestinian Territory and the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Israel’s actions.
Health care system ‘destroyed’
As of November 10, two-thirds of primary health care facilities and half of Gaza’s hospitals are not working, according to the United Nations. And on November 12, at least 521 people, including 16 medical workers, were killed in 137 “attacks on health care” in Gaza, the World Health Organization said.
“Several Israeli attacks damaging hospitals and injuring health care workers, who have already been hit hard by illegal blockades, have destroyed Gaza’s health care infrastructure,” said A Kayum Ahmed, special adviser on the right to health at HRW. “The strikes on hospitals have killed hundreds of people and put many patients at great risk because they cannot get proper medical care.”
Between October 7 and November 7, HRW said it investigated attacks on or near five health care facilities in Gaza.
He found that Israeli forces hit an Indonesian hospital several times between October 7 and 28, killing at least two civilians; the International Eye Hospital was hit again and completely destroyed on October 10 or 11; the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital was forced to close on November 1, days after airstrikes on or near the facility; a man and a child were injured after several attacks on al-Quds Hospital; and Israeli forces hit well-marked ambulances several times – at least a dozen people were killed or wounded in one incident outside al-Shifa Hospital on 3 November.
“These ongoing attacks are not isolated. Israeli forces have also carried out several strikes damaging several other hospitals throughout Gaza,” said HRW.
“Directing attacks against… medical and transport units” is prohibited as a war crime under the ICC’s Rome Statute, HRW noted.
“Hospitals and other medical facilities are civilian objects that have special protection under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war. Hospitals will only lose their protection from attack if they are used to carry out ‘actions harmful to the enemy’, and after necessary precautions,” he said.
Israel claims that Hamas fighters have set up command centers under hospitals such as al-Shifa and the Indonesian Hospital – claims that Hamas and hospital staff deny.
“These claims are disputed,” HRW said. “Human Rights Watch could not verify them, or see any information that would justify the attacks on Gaza hospitals. “
HRW also criticized the “sweeping nature” of Israel’s evacuation orders, which did not take into account specific requirements for hospitals and patients. The group said there was no way to ensure safe passage because “there is no reliable way to escape or a safe place to go in Gaza”, which raised concerns that “the purpose was not to protect civilians, but to scare them away”.
“The Israeli government should immediately stop illegal attacks on hospitals, ambulances, and other civilian objects, as well as the total blockade of the Gaza Strip, which amounts to a war crime with general punishment, ” said HRW.
He said Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups should take steps to protect civilians under their control.