More than 320 civilians were among a threefold increase in the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces last year, according to Amnesty International. The human rights group`s 2007 report says that over half of the more than 650 Palestinians killed in 2006 were civilians, 120 of them children and young people under 18. Amnesty defines civilians, `as people that are reasonably supposed never to have been involved in armed operations`.
While Amnesty said that dozens of Palestinians were killed in the West Bank it pointed out that most of the increase resulted from aerial and artillery bombardments in Gaza after the abduction of the Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit in late June and in response to increased Qassam rocket fire on Israel. These included, for example, the shelling of a house in the northern town of Beit Hanoun which killed 17 members of the Athamneh family.
The report said 21 Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinians militants in the same year, the lowest figure since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000.
Amnesty also accused soldiers and settlers of committing `serious human rights abuses, including unlawful killings against Palestinians mostly with impunity`. Although it said settler attacks on farmers in the West Bank had decreased, they were continuing.
It said that, at times, security forces were present at such incidents and did not intervene. It also accused the security forces of often only opening investigations after the cases had been highlighted by journalists and human rights groups.
The Israeli military said yesterday it did its utmost `to avoid harming innocent people… in contrast to terror organisations that do their utmost to harm innocent civilians`.
It rejected what it called `the attempt to equate terror organisations` with a `democratic state that acts within the confines of the law to exercise its right to defend itself, its sovereign territory, and civilians against terror organisations`.
Israeli troops launched a rare raid into the southern Gaza Strip early yesterday, briefly detaining seven Palestinians on the outskirts of Khan Yunis. The detainees were later released. Palestinian medics said that seven people, including a pregnant woman and a teenage boy, had been injured in two further air strikes on suspected Gaza militants yesterday.