(Gaza) – Israeli forces in the southern Gaza town of Khuza’a fired on and killed civilians in apparent violation of the laws of war in several incidents between July 23 and 25, 2014. Deliberate attacks on civilians who are not participating in the fighting are war crimes. Seven Palestinians who had fled Khuza’a described to Human Rights Watch the grave dangers that civilians have faced in trying to flee the town, near the Israeli border, to seek safety in Khan Younis. These included repeated shelling that struck apparent civilian structures, lack of access to necessary medical care, and the threat of attack from Israeli forces as they tried to leave the area.“When will there be justice for the civilians in Khuza’a, who suffered shelling for days, then faced deadly attacks by Israeli soldiers after being ordered to leave the town?” asked Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. Khuza’a, which has a population of about 10,000, was the scene of fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups during an Israeli ground offensive in the area on July 23, Israeli news media reported. Israeli forces provided general warnings to Khuza’a residents to leave the area prior to July 21. While the laws of war encourage “advance, effective warnings” of attacks, the failure of civilians to abide by warnings does not make them lawful targets of attack – for obvious reasons, since many people do not flee because of infirmity, fear, lack of a place to go, or any number of other reasons. The remaining presence of such civilians despite a warning to flee cannot be ignored when attacks are carried out, as Israeli forces have done previously.“Warning families to flee fighting doesn’t make them fair targets just because they’re unable to do so, and deliberately attacking them is a war crime,” Whitson said. Human Rights Watch investigated several incidents between July 23 and 25 when, local residents said, Israeli forces opened fire on civilians trying to flee Khuza’a, but no Palestinian fighters were present at the time and no firefights were taking place.
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