Sunday, March 22, 2015

  • Sunday, March 22, 2015
  • Elder of Ziyon
On July 30, 2014, artillery shells hit a marketplace in Shujaiyya, Gaza, killing at least 17 people. Reports said as many as 35 were killed.

Israel was accused of violating a humanitarian ceasefire:

Despite a four-hour humanitarian ceasefire that began at 3:00 p.m., Israeli forces on Wednesday afternoon shelled a market in Shujaiyya as well as number of homes across the Gaza Strip, killing at least 35.

Gaza Ministry of Health spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said around 6 p.m. that an Israeli airstrike had hit Shujaiyya market, killing at least 17, including a journalist, and injuring 200, including many seriously.
Gruesome (but edited) video shows one of the attacks:

What really happened?

The Military Advocate General report shows that the IDF did not violate any ceasefire and if anything, it put its soldiers in serious danger for 50 minutes before responding to heavy mortar fire:

According to the factual findings collated by the FFA Mechanism and presented to the MAG, the events associated with the incident started at approximately 16:10, when an anti-tank (AT) missile was fired at IDF forces operating in an open area on the outskirts of the Shuja'iyya neighborhood. Immediately after the anti-tank missile was fired, there commenced an intense and ongoing burst of mortar fire, emanating from a built-up area in the neighborhood, targeting the forces. As a result of this fire an IDF soldier was injured and the rest of the soldiers at the scene were placed in real danger. Further, in light of this use of fire, and the situation in which the forces found themselves (including a tank that could not move due to malfunction), the conclusion drawn by the commanders in the field was that this fire could provide cover for an attempt to abduct a soldier. During this episode of mortar fire, five sites in a built-up area were identified as points from which shells had been fired at IDF forces. Nevertheless, IDF forces did not return fire towards the sources of this fire, because of their proximity to "sensitive sites" (in the IDF, "sensitive sites" are civilian sites that receive special protection from attack under the law of armed conflict (such as medical facilities), as well as other civilian sites that warrant special consideration for policy reasons, even when there is no legal obligation (such as schools); such sites are identified in advance by the IDF and integrated into IDF's operational systems).
In other words, IDF forces were sitting ducks and in real danger because they go beyond the letter of the Laws of armed Conflict in order to reduce the possibility of hitting schools or hospitals that are nearby where terrorists are firing.

At approximately 16:40, when the mortar fire had not yet ceased, IDF forces fired a number of rounds of smoke-screening shells, in order to screen the troops, and frustrate the enemy fire. At approximately 17:00, as the mortar fire upon the troops from the built-up area continued, and in light of the ongoing threat to the lives of the troops, the forces were able to identify two additional sources of fire, from which most of the fire towards them was originating at that time. After it was concluded that one of these points was sufficiently distant from sensitive sites, it was decided to return a limited amount of fire, of five mortar shells, with the aim of suppressing the fire targeted at IDF forces. The IDF fire was carried out using mortars, since there was no available alternative for carrying out the strike, including aerial alternatives, which would allow the necessary operational effect to be achieved. In this context, the possibility of using 155 mm high-explosive artillery shells was also considered, in order to address the danger faced by the forces. This possibility was dismissed for the reason that the collateral damage expected from mortar shells was more limited.

Approximately 18 minutes after the initial mortar fire was carried out by the forces, towards the source of the fire, and after the fire emanating from that site had not ceased, it was decided to fire an additional ten mortars towards it. After this round of fire, the mortar fire on IDF forces ceased. Only around 40 minutes after the execution of the above-mentioned fire were reports received by the IDF regarding the hit on civilians in this area.

The FFA Mechanism's findings further revealed that at the time of the incident, the forces had believed that the likelihood of civilians being harmed as a result of the fire was low. Before the start of the ground incursion in Shuja'iyya, a widespread warning to evacuate had been provided, which, according to the information in the force's possession, had resulted in the evacuation of the vast majority of the civilian population in the neighborhood? An additional warning to evacuate was made two days prior to the incident, on 28 July, in order to keep the civilian population at a distance from the area of hostilities. Moreover, during the ongoing aerial surveillance carried out in the area in the period leading up to the incident, no civilian presence was identified on the roads and in the open areas of the neighborhood – which are the areas in which the danger posed by mortar shells is generally greater than the danger to those inside a building. In real time, no aerial surveillance capabilities were available to the forces. Thus, even if the possibility of civilian presence in the area had not been entirely ruled out, in consideration of the assessment that most of the population had evacuated and that no civilian presence was identified in the area prior to the incident, the understanding was that the risk of harm as a result of the limited fire was low.

After the event, by comparing the actions taken by IDF forces with the allegations contained in the complaint received by the MAG Corps, it can be concluded that one of the shells from the first round of fire carried out by IDF forces apparently struck the roof of the Al-Salak family, at a time when the family was on the roof, and killed seven family members; and that two shells from the second round of fire carried out by IDF forces apparently struck the crowd which had gathered next to the Al-Salak house in the wake of the first strike. At the same time, the possibility that the harm to civilians during this incident resulted from a misfire by a Palestinian terror organization has not been ruled out, in light of the extensive enemy mortar fire emanating from the area at the time.
But what about the return fire? Did it hit its intended target? The answer seems to be yes.

In addition to the above, intelligence information indicated that six of the deceased in this incident appear to have been militants, and thus the total civilian fatalities is lower than that alleged in the complaint.
This means that the video above was edited to as not to show/play the sounds of the outgoing mortars from the area of the market that continued after the first Israeli response.

What about that cease-fire?
The FFA Mechanism's findings further concluded that the incident in question did not take place during a ceasefire in Shuja'iyya. The IDF announced a unilateral humanitarian ceasefire between the hours of 15:00 and 19:00 on that day, but clarified that this would not apply in a number of specific areas in which IDF forces were operating at that time, including Shuja'iyya (along with a number of other areas). This was transmitted in the media and in messages that were passed to the Palestinian side.
This is corroborated by The Independent:

The Israeli military has declared a limited four-hour humanitarian ceasefire in some parts of Gaza ...

However, the four-hour ceasefire will not take place in areas where operations are already underway and residents are being warned not to return to evacuated areas.

Lt Col Peter Lerner of the Israel Defence Forces told the BBC he hoped Hamas hold their fire during the brief lull in fighting as well, "because otherwise things are going to get messier".
This incident is maddening, because it shows that the IDF ia more concerned about civilians whose collateral deaths would be perfectly legal under international law than they are about their own troops, the exact opposite of how an army should act. It also shows that Hamas is eagerly taking advantage of that weakness, apparently firing mortars from nearby or within a crowded marketplace as well as schools and medical facilities, literally shielding themselves with children and injured.

Moreover, it proves, yet again, how far out of their depth NGOs that criticize Israel are. Without knowing what goes into military decisions, they cannot begin to come to any conclusion about the legality of any specific incident; yet they sprinkle around "war crimes" accusations like candy.  They know literally nothing about military matters yet they self-righteously proclaim that the IDF is violating international law - laws that were written deliberately to allow military leaders to make exactly these kinds of decisions based on the best information they have at the time without fearing to be labeled war criminals.

Don't take my word for it - read the actual sources. There is a lot of protection for military decisions that are aimed at a valid target even if there would be civilian deaths, based on the value of the target. NGO's don't know the targets, don't know their value, don't know what the commanders know at the time, and yet pretend that they know all three.


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