Human Rights Watch (HRW) today accused Israel of violating international laws of war, after demolishing four multi-story buildings by air raids during its 11-day assault on the Gaza Strip in May.
The deadly bombardment killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children, and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.
"The apparently unlawful Israeli strikes on four high-rise towers in Gaza City caused serious, lasting harm for countless Palestinians who lived, worked, shopped, or benefited from businesses based there," said Richard Weir, crisis and conflict researcher for Human Rights Watch.
"The Israeli military should publicly produce the evidence that it says it relies on to carry out these attacks."
Among the multi-story targets were the nine-storey Al-Jawhara Tower on Al-Jalaa Street and the 12-story Al-Jalaa building, which housed the Associated Press news agency and several other media outlets. The building was also home to dozens of Palestinian families.
Israel has claimed that the high-rise buildings housed offices of Palestinian armed groups, including the headquarters of certain units, military intelligence, and in one tower, offices for "the most valuable Hamas technological equipment" for use against Israel. However, no evidence to support these claims have been made public.
The destruction of the Al-Jalaa building was widely regarded as an attempt to silence journalists covering Israel's military attacks. In less than a week, Israel bombed the offices of at least 18 media outlets.
HRW conducted interviews with 18 Palestinians who were either witnesses or victims of the airstrikes. It said it also reviewed video footage and photos after the attacks, as well as statements by Israeli and Palestinian officials.
In its investigation, the human rights organisation concluded that no evidence was found of military operations in the buildings when they were attacked. It also said that even if militants were using the buildings, Israel is obligated to avoid disproportionate harm to civilians.
"Throughout the May hostilities, unlawful Israeli strikes not only killed many civilians but also destroyed high-rise towers, wiping out scores of businesses and homes, upending the lives of thousands of Palestinians," Weir said. "Donor funding alone will not rebuild Gaza. The crushing closure of the Gaza Strip needs to end, along with the impunity that fuels ongoing serious abuses."