Human Rights Watch strongly condemned the bomb attack on
an Israeli school bus near the Kafr Darom settlement in the Gaza Strip.
"Deliberate attacks on civilians are never justified," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "Those behind this attack should be vigorously prosecuted."
Responsibility for the attack is not known. It was claimed by at least three Palestinian armed groups. The Palestinian Authority denied responsibility for the bombing, which occurred in an area under Israeli security control.
The bus, carrying thirty children and adults, was reportedly ripped by shrapnel from a metal-encased mortar shell detonated by remote control. The attack killed Miriam Amitai, 35, a teacher, and Gavriel Biton, 34, a school maintenance worker, and maimed Orit, Tehila, and Yisrael Cohen. Orit, 12, and Yisrael, 7, each lost a leg, and Tehila, 9, lost a foot. Four other adults and two children were also injured.
Israeli forces have also been responsible for attacks on children. Since the beginning of the recent clashes on September 29, dozens of Palestinian children have been killed or gravely injured as a result of indiscriminate or excessive use of force by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Human Rights Watch is concerned that in at least some instances Israeli soldiers targeted children or fired recklessly into crowds that included children. While many of the children may have been involved in demonstrations or stone throwing, few, if any, posed an imminent threat to life that might have justified using lethal force against them.
Human Rights Watch investigated the October 6 fatal shooting near Hebron of 'Ala Mohammad Abdel Rahman Mahfouz, a 14-year-old who, according to witnesses, was targeted by an IDF soldier an hour or more after an incident in which the boy had thrown a rock that had hit another soldier. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the soldier responsible later boasted that he intended to kill 'Ala in retaliation for hitting one of his comrades with a stone.
Human Rights Watch also investigated the September 30 incident in which 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dirra was killed at the Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip. In that case, heavy IDF fire continued for at least forty-five minutes after an initial exchange which may have involved Palestinian gunfire at the IDF bunker. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that about half an hour after commencing fire the IDF mortally wounded the boy and seriously wounded his father, who were huddled behind a water barrel, frantically trying to signal for help. According to witnesses, the boy and his father were not in the crossfire of earlier shooting, and at no point did they or anyone in their vicinity pose any threat to the IDF soldiers. Heavy IDF firing continued for another fifteen to twenty minutes, killing Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance driver Bassam al-Bilbeysi and preventing the medical evaluation of Muhammad and his father.
"All parties must refrain from deliberately or recklessly attacking civilians," Megally said. "There is a pressing need to conduct impartial investigations to identify and punish those responsible for such attacks."