Human Rights Watch is alarmed that ordinary civilians are increasingly the main victims of intensified conflict in Israel and the Occupied Territories. The organization reminds all parties that even in times of armed conflict, they are obliged to respect international humanitarian law, especially the principle of civilian immunity.

“It doesn´t matter whether you call it resistance, self-defense, or a war against terror. No political or security objective can justify targeting and punishing the civilian population of an adversary,” said Hanny Megally, Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch calls on all parties to reassert their commitment to the fundamental standards governing the conduct of hostilities. These include an absolute prohibition against deliberately targeting civilians; the need to discriminate between military and civilian targets; and the obligation to ensure access to medical treatment for the wounded.

Human Rights Watch once more vigorously condemns attacks on civilians by armed Palestinian groups, which in less than a week have sent suicide bombers to kill some forty civilians. The organization calls on President Yasir Arafat, as well as leaders of armed groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the al-Aqsa Brigades, to immediately halt all attacks on civilians, to order an end to such attacks, and to condemn them unequivocally.

Human Rights Watch also strongly deplores IDF measures that disproportionately harm civilians. These include prolonged curfews with severe restrictions on the movement of emergency medical personnel; the extensive destruction of homes and civilian property; the coerced involvement of civilians to assist military operations; and disturbing but unverified reports of the use of lethal force against civilians, especially those attempting to move during periods of declared curfew.

Human Rights Watch is also deeply concerned at the IDF´s refusal to permit independent media and human rights groups access to monitor and report on the impact of these measures. The organization expresses particular concern at reports that the IDF has forcibly entered offices of Palestinian human rights groups and the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and, in at least one case, has detained a staff member. “There is a desperate need for independent monitors to accurately report and verify what is happening on the ground,” said Megally. “Restrictions on the media and on rights monitors—Israeli and international as well as Palestinian—undermine their ability to deter abuse.”

The organization is alarmed at increasing signs of a breakdown in law and order and in military discipline. These include reports that IDF soldiers may have executed Palestinian security forces members after having surrendered or been captured, and the execution by masked Palestinians of eleven or more Palestinians who had been in PA custody for alleged collaboration with Israel.