At least 135 Palestinians were killed in Rafah during the events of ‘Black Friday’ on August 1, 2014 [File: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]
Hamas has condemned an Israeli decision to close a military investigation into an assault on August 1, 2014, in which 135 Palestinians were killed in Rafah, in the southern part of the besieged Gaza Strip.
In a report on Wednesday, the Israeli army cleared itself of wrongdoing and said it would not prosecute commanders who were involved, claiming its investigation found no reason to suspect criminal misconduct.
The attack, referred to as “Black Friday”, was part of a seven-week assault on Gaza, which has been under an Israeli-imposed siege – aided by neighbouring Egypt – since 2007.
Hamas’ spokesperson Hazem Qassem said the investigation had no “legal or political basis”.
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“How can the offender be the judge of the very assault they committed?” Qassem told Al Jazeera. “This was an attack that the whole world witnessed, and this is an attempt by the Israeli army to escape legal punishment.”
International rights groups such as Amnesty International had said the Israeli army indiscriminately and deliberately targeted civilians during “Black Friday”.
The group’s report cited “strong evidence” of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity on August 1, 2014, as Israeli forces bombarded residential areas in Rafah in retaliation for the capture of one of its soldiers.
“There is overwhelming evidence that Israeli forces committed disproportionate, or otherwise indiscriminate, attacks which killed scores of civilians in their homes, on the streets and in vehicles and injured many more,” the report read.
“This includes repeatedly firing artillery and other imprecise explosive weapons in densely populated civilian areas … In some cases, there are indications that they directly fired at and killed civilians, including people fleeing.”
Allegations by Amnesty International and other local NGOs including B’tselem led to the launching of a preliminary investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
But the ICC was not able to open a fully-fledged war crimes investigation, as one of its criteria is whether a country is capable of investigating itself and prosecuting its own citizens.
The international community must now take action, said Qassem.
“Israel must be tried before the ICC,” he said.
The decision comes days after the United Nations and Egypt secured a ceasefire deal between Hamas and Israel in the hope of achieving a lasting truce following a series of Israeli attacks that killed three Palestinians, including a pregnant woman and her 18-month-old child, in Gaza last week.
According to Qassem, the inability of the international community to hold Israel accountable for the 2014 violence has allowed it to “continue killing Palestinian doctors, medics and civilians” over the past few months, referring to the Great March of Return rallies.
The 2014 attack came shortly after a ceasefire agreement was reached. It was quickly broken after Israeli soldiers clashed with Hamas fighters in Rafah.
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Two Israeli soldiers and one Palestinian fighter died in the subsequent firefight, and Hamas fighters captured a third soldier, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, who Israel later declared dead.
Following his capture, the Israeli army responded by implementing the “Hannibal Directive”, a controversial order that allowed soldiers to respond by “unleashing massive firepower on persons, vehicles and buildings in the vicinity of the attack, despite the risk to civilians”, the Amnesty report had noted.
More than 2,250 Palestinians, including nearly 1,500 civilians, were killed and a further 11,000 were wounded in the July-August 2014 assault, according to Palestinian and UN estimates.
At least 18,000 Palestinian homes were completely destroyed, and 73 medical facilities were severely damaged. Most of the destruction resulted from more than 6,000 Israeli air strikes in less than two months on heavily populated areas.
On the Israeli side, 66 soldiers and six civilians died.