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Hamas' War Crimes

14 July 2014

Hamas' War Crimes

Hamas' actions are in clear violation of the most fundamental principles of the laws of armed conflict, including the principle of distinction. This principle requires parties to an armed conflict to refrain from deliberately targeting civilian population or civilian objects. Likewise, it requires parties to distinguish its military operations and the civilian population, and to refrain from using the presence of the civilian population to shield military objectives.

Hamas violates this fundamental principle in two main ways –

• By deliberately attacking Israel's civilian population, including by conducting suicide, rocket and mortar attacks.

• By deliberately and systematically employing tactics which put the Palestinian civilian population in danger, including the launching of attacks from within densely populated areas, the use of human shields, deploying weapons storage sites and command centers in residential homes and in densely populated areas and commandeering sensitive sites (such as hospitals, private homes, schools and mosques) for terrorist use.

These actions clearly constitute war crimes, as defined by international law and may also amount to crimes against humanity.

The principle of distinction is anchored in customary international law. It has been reflected in treaties and other sources of international law, including in several articles of the Additional Protocol to Geneva Conventions, 1979. [1] For example:

• Article 48: “In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.”

• Article 51(2): "The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited"

• Article 58: " The Parties to the conflict shall, to the maximum extent feasible: (a)…endeavor to remove the civilian population, individual civilians and civilian objects under their control from the vicinity of military objectives;
(b) Avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas;"

• Article 51(7): "… The Parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations."

• Article 12(4): "Under no circumstances shall medical units be used in an attempt to shield military objectives from attack. Whenever possible, the Parties to the conflict shall ensure that medical units are so sited that attacks against military objectives do not imperil their safety."

• Article 53: "It is prohibited (a) to commit any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples; (b) to use such objects in support of the military effort;

[1] It should be noted that Israel is not a Party to the Additional Protocols. Nevertheless, it is Israel's position that a number of Articles in the Protocol reflect customary international law.


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