Hamas’s military wing should immediately ensure that no further civilians are targeted for attack, Human Rights Watch said today. The military wing claimed responsibility for the sniper shooting of an Israeli civilian on Monday. To date, Hamas political leaders have not condemned the attack or announced measures to ensure that additional such attacks do not take place.

On Monday, a Palestinian sniper shot and wounded an Israel Electric Corporation worker while he was at work on the Israeli side of the Gaza-Israel border, near Karni crossing. The armed wing of Hamas, the `Izzidine al-Qassam brigades, claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place only days after the formation of a unity government between Fatah and Hamas. “One of the most basic prohibitions of the laws of war is the ban on targeting civilians,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The leaders of Hamas have an absolute legal obligation to put an end to the targeting of civilians, and they should begin by denouncing the attack on the electrical worker.”

According to press reports, a spokesman for the Hamas military wing, explaining the attack, said: “the enemy has been violating calm day and night in the West Bank and in Gaza.” Such claims can in no way justify targeting an unarmed civilian. Both international human rights and humanitarian law are clear that retaliation can never justify attacks on civilians.

The spokesman also cited the unity government’s platform, saying that it “allows for resistance in all forms.” Such remarks only illustrate the importance of Hamas political leaders speaking out against and acting to prevent attacks on unarmed civilians.

“Resistance has nothing to do with it,” said Whitson. “No form of war justifies deliberate attacks on civilians.”

Human Rights Watch repeatedly has called on all parties to the armed conflict, both Israeli and Palestinian, to scrupulously observe international human rights and humanitarian law so as to minimize harm to civilians.