JERUSALEM, Israel -- Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip committed war crimes and violated international law by firing hundreds of rockets, missiles and mortars at Israeli towns and cities last month, a U.S.-based human rights group said.
In a report issued Monday, the Human Rights Watch said the groups committed war crimes by launching rockets at Israeli population centers, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
In response to November's rocket barrage, the Israel Defense Forces launched Operation Pillar of Defense, targeting the terror infrastructure in Gaza, not the civilian population. The Iron Dome anti-missile defense system successfully intercepted many of 1,500-plus rockets, but more than half hit the country, at least 60 exploding in residential areas.
"Palestinian armed groups made clear in their statements that harming civilians was their aim," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of HRW, said. "There is simply no legal justification for launching rockets at populated areas."
The report stated that anyone who commits "laws-of-war violations intentionally or recklessly is responsible for war crimes."
"Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, civilians and civilian structures may not be subject to deliberate attacks or attacks that do not discriminate between civilians and military targets. "Anyone who commits serious laws-of-war violations intentionally or recklessly is responsible for war crimes."
The report also noted the predisposition to firing rockets from residential areas, deliberating putting their own population at risk.
"Under the laws of war, parties to an armed conflict are required to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians under their control from the effects of attacks and not to place military targets in or near densely populated areas," the report stated, noting they never "warned civilians to evacuate an area before a rocket launch."
In contrast, the IDF dropped hundreds of leaflets urging civilians to evacuate before targeting rocket launch pads, arms smuggling tunnels, missile storage facilities, and explosives plants and other components of the terror infrastructure.
Hamas, the Palestinian Arab faction ruling Gaza, said its "legal experts" would review the report before responding.
The Israel Defense Forces has not yet issued a response to the findings.