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Israeli jurist says killing civilians not always a war crime

On the backdrop of Operation Protective Edge, former Shin Bet legal adviser Eli Bahar outlines the legal concepts involved in warfare and the boundaries of permissible IDF actions in Gaza according to international law.
Smoke billows from a beach shack following an Israeli military strike, on July 16, 2014 in Gaza City which killed four children, medics said. All four were on the beach when the attack took place, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said, with several injured children taking refuge at a nearby hotel where journalists were staying. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX        (Photo credit should read THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)
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“Even when there is a chance that citizens will be injured as a result of military action, there is no absolute prohibition against taking such action, as long as the target being attacked is a legitimate military target.” This statement, formulated over the last few days in response to Operation Protective Edge, was written by legal experts at the Israel Democracy Institute. The document is signed by institute President Yohanan Plesner, his deputy Mordechai Kremnitzer, Ono Academic College law faculty Dean Amichai Cohen and former Shin Bet legal adviser Eli Bahar.

Their brief reflects the many challenges and complexities faced by Israel as it engages in a conflict in the Gaza Strip, right in the middle of a civilian population. What happened July 16 was a stark reminder of the situation’s complexity. Four children playing soccer were killed on a Gaza beach July 16, apparently by offshore Israel Defense Forces (IDF) fire. The IDF immediately began to investigate the incident, claiming that the area under attack was targeted because militants who had committed acts of terror were also located there. The killing of the children received extensive media coverage worldwide, and is considered by now one of the most significant moments of Operation Protective Edge. Israel has already been accused of committing a war crime and is being asked to explain what exactly happened there.

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