As Israel’s latest assault on Gaza, named ‘Operation Protective Edge’, enters its second week, Palestinian casualties have reached 168 and continue to mount according to the latest UN figures. Israeli casualties are so far nil. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said of these Palestinian casualties “80 per cent of the fatalities (133) have been civilians, of whom 21 per cent (36) are children, raising concerns about respect for international humanitarian law.” The Palestinian Ministry of Health reports that 1,140 Palestinians, including 296 children and 233 women have also been injured. As well as this, OCHA estimate 25,300 children whose families have experienced death, injury or loss of homes are in need of psychosocial support.
OCHA warns that
“reports about the circumstances of some incidents, where civilians or civilian objects have been directly hit by Israeli fire, while there was allegedly no rocket fire or armed group activity in the close vicinity, have raised concerns about the respect for the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in attack under international humanitarian law.”
As well as Israeli armed drone strikes there are reports of heavy aerial bombardment from Israeli F16s, naval vessels offshore and shelling from artillery cannon at the perimeter of the Gaza Strip. Today comes reports that that Hamas have launched at least one drone deep into Israel which Israel says it shot one down over Ashdod using a US supplied Patriot missile. Although there has been much speculation about this incident there is as yet little real information
Israeli and Western press report hundreds of Hamas rockets being fired into Israel, reaching as far as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as well as Southern Israel which borders Gaza. One rocket is reported to have landed in Hebron in the West Bank, badly damaging a Palestinian house. So far there have been no reports of casualties or serious injuries from Hamas rockets.
We know from the Israeli assaults on Gaza in Winter 2008-09 and November 2012 that armed drones will be playing a major role. Israeli drones fire Raphael made Spike missiles and bombs sometimes fitted with tungsten sleeves – so-called dime bombs. Elbit Systems which makes the Hermes range of drones often markets its products as “combat proven” and its this valuable sales tag which has helped drive Israeli drones sales to at least 53 countries according to Drone Wars recent briefing Israel and the Drone Wars.
While Raphael claims “pinpoint precision” for its Spike missiles and coupled with the fact that sensors and cameras on-board drones are expected to enable highly precise and accurate strikes, the high proportion of civilian casualties (80% as of today) is inexplicable – unless they are deliberately or recklessly being targeted – a clear contravention of IHL.
The ultimate question is will this latest in a repeating 18-monthly cycle of assaults on Gaza and the consequent devastating effects on Palestinians shock the parties and the world into a creating a long lasting peace? Or will the world continue to despair of the situation, while at the same time beating a path to Israel’s door to purchase drone technology. Today at least fifteen European countries operate Israeli drones. While Europeans wring their hands and condemn Israel’s actions, they continue to purchase, operate and support Israel’s drone industry.