Israeli air strike on media facilities 'violated laws of war' 21 Dec 21, 2012 - 1:51:27 AM
Israeli air strikes on media facilities that killed two journalists during last month's Gaza offensive amounted to attacks on civilians that violated the laws of war, a leading human rights group has said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said there was no evidence that two television cameramen killed in a targeted strike were militant fighters or otherwise legitimate targets, as Israel claimed.
The two men, Mahmoud al-Kumi, and Hussam Salama, who worked for a TV station affiliated with Gaza's Hamas government, died when a missile struck the car they were travelling in on November 20.
Israel said the two were "Hamas operatives", an assertion denied by their families, according to HRW. Hamas' military wing, the Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades, has not added then to its list of fallen fighters.
Ten other media workers were wounded in separate attacks that damaged the offices of four different media outlets. A two-year-old boy living across the street from a targeted building was killed in one of the attacks.
Israel insisted it was carrying out "surgical strikes" against the infrastructure of Hamas and other militant groups during the eight-day conflict, in which 170 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed. It launched an aerial bombardment of Gaza on November 14 in response to rockets being fired from the territory into Israel.
But HRW said the strikes on media "violated the laws of war by targeting civilians and civilian objects that were making no apparent contribution to Palestinian military operations".
"Just because Israel says a journalist was a fighter or a TV station was a command centre does not make it so," said Sarah Leah Witson, HRW's Middle East director. "Journalists who praise Hamas and TV stations that applaud attacks on Israel may be propagandists, but that does not make them legitimate targets under the laws of war."
The Israeli military claimed it had struck antenna towers on top of two buildings accommodating media because they were "operational communications infrastructure". Two floors of another building in which media were based were "surgically targeted" as a Hamas "intelligence and command centre".
The Israeli Defence Forces rejected HRW's criticisms but said it was investigating the details of the report. "The Israel Defence Forces acts in accordance with the laws of armed conflict, despite the ongoing deliberate violations and abuse of these laws by the terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip," it said. "The details of the events mentioned in the report are being checked. Once this process is complete, we will be able to provide a comprehensive response."