Speed Reads

crisis in Gaza

Israeli troops 'paid little heed to warnings' to avoid hitting U.N. schools

An investigation by The New York Times shows that Israeli troops "paid little heed to warnings to safeguard" United Nations schools in Gaza, one of which was bombarded by artillery shells on July 30, killing 21 people, including many children. The report is the latest to question Israel's tactics in its ongoing conflict with the Islamic militant group Hamas, with critics contending that Israel has fired indiscriminately into civilian areas that exist cheek by jowl with militant hideouts in Gaza's crowded neighborhoods.

The Times reports that the Israeli military used artillery shells, rather than "smart" weaponry, to target the school. Such tactics are bound to result in civilian casualties, according to experts interviewed by the Times:

Artillery is a "statistics weapon," not a "precision weapon," experts said, generally fired from up to 25 miles away and considered effective if it hits within 50 yards of its target.

"Heavy artillery shelling into a populated area would be inherently indiscriminate," said Bill Van Esveld, a Jerusalem-based Human Rights Watch lawyer who investigates war crimes. "You just can't aim that weapon precisely enough in that environment because it's so destructive." [The New York Times]

An Israeli general who declined to speak on the record told the Times that such tactics were inevitable in war. "The orders are clear. But I find it very difficult to judge those fighters under fire and tell them, 'Look, please open your textbook and read out loud what we told you,'" he said.