Today's Israel Defense Forces air strike on a crowded Gaza apartment building demonstrated a clear failure to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch condemned the attack as a violation of international humanitarian law.

Thirteen civilians were reported killed and some 140 injured in the attack. At least eight of the civilians killed were children. The intended target, Hamas military leader Salah al-Shahada, was also killed, as another Hamas member reportedly was.

"An attack that killed thirteen civilians and injured scores was clearly not carried out in a manner that minimized casualties. It should never have gone ahead," said Joe Stork, Washington director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "In such a crowded civilian area, these deaths and injuries were absolutely foreseeable."

According to Israeli media reports, both Defense Minister Benyamin Ben-Eliezer and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon approved the operation, in which a United States-supplied F-16 aircraft fired a missile into a residential apartment building in the al-Daraj area of Gaza City. Gaza is one of the world's most densely populated areas.

The operation was part of the Israeli government's policy of assassinating individuals it considers responsible for attacks against Israeli civilians and military targets. Human Rights Watch has criticized Israel's "liquidation" policy as a form of killing in circumstances when the suspect could have been arrested. Human Rights Watch has on numerous occasions condemned Palestinian attacks targeting civilians as violations of international law.