A serious and bloody saga has been playing out before our eyes in the Middle East in recent days.
Mounting tensions over the killing of three Israeli teenagers and the apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager in the West Bank have transformed into a full-blown conflict between Israel and armed groups in Gaza in recent days.
We have seen scenes of devastation and heartbreak as more than 100 Palestinians are now reported to have been killed in Israeli air raids on Gaza with hundreds more injured, including civilians . Many of the dead and wounded are children. At least five healthcare facilities were damaged by air strikes.
Hundreds of indiscriminate rockets have been fired from Gaza into southern Israel since 12 June.Experience of past conflicts in the region tell us that one killing leads to another as reprisals and revenge killings only serve to escalate the violence and destruction.This is a war situation but neither side is respecting the rules of war or armed engagement.
Last Wednesday night, in a café on the beach near Khan Younis in Gaza, dozens of people had gathered watch the World Cup semi-final. An Israeli air strike killed nine people, including two children, and wounded many others. Local human rights organisations found no indications that the area was used for military purposes.
The Geneva Conventions explicitly prohibit the deliberate or indiscriminate killing or injury of civilians during conflict, regardless of the perceived rights and wrongs of any side. International humanitarian law provides clear legal protection for any person not belonging to armed forces or armed groups.
The Geneva Conventions explicitly prohibit the deliberate or indiscriminate killing or injury of civilians during conflict, regardless of the perceived rights and wrongs of any side. International humanitarian law provides clear legal protection for any person not belonging to armed forces or armed groups.Colm O'Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland
But neither party is respecting international law.
Amnesty International is calling on the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups, including Hamas’ military wing and those overseeing it, to respect the laws of war.
They must take necessary precautions in attack to minimise harm to civilians and their homes caught up in the intensifying hostilities. Israel must only carry out strikes on legitimate military targets and must exercise the utmost caution in the means and methods of attack.
Carrying out indiscriminate air strikes in densely populated areas or direct attacks on civilian homes will inevitably lead to the loss of civilian lives. This is a clear breach of international humanitarian law.
The firing of indiscriminate rockets from Gaza into Israel, which Hamas’ military wing has taken responsibility for, must be equally condemned. These rockets simply cannot be aimed accurately at military targets. The firing of these rockets is a war crime and must stop.
While each individual tragedy is new and felt deeply by the families and communities concerned, the nature of the war being waged is not new. Lack of accountability and failure to properly investigate and prosecute those who perpetrated war crimes there in 2012 and in 2008/9 is fuelling the cycle of impunity and violations.
If, in the past, no-one was brought to book this gives freer rein to future violators. The longer impunity is allowed the more likely we are to face similar situations again. Even if a ceasefire to the current hostilities can be secured, we will simply be back to square one.
War cannot be waged without weapons.
Amnesty International is calling again for an international arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza strip. This embargo has to apply to all transfers of weapons, munitions and related military equipment, to make a difference.
The international community cannot stand idly by. Laws only have meaning if they are enforced Most of us would accept that no civilian should be a casualty of war through deliberate or indiscriminate attacks The principle is clear, the law is clear. Both sides are ignoring it Right now men, women and children across Gaza and Israel are waiting in terror for the next siren or the next bomb blast.
International law must be respected, civilians must be protected, states must refuse to sell or supply arms to any side, and crimes must not go unpunished.
All of this must happen as a matter of urgency if they are to see an end to their nightmare
Colm O’Gorman is Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, a version of this artilce was first publised in the Irish Sun on Sunday 13 July 2014.