Israeli military commanders drastically reduced the 'safety' margins that separate artillery targets from the built-up civilian areas of Gaza earlier this year, despite being warned that the new policy risked increasing Palestinian civilian deaths and injuries, The Observer can reveal.
The warning, delivered in Israel's high court by six human rights groups, came after the Israeli Defence Force reduced the so-called 'safety range' in Gaza from a 300-metre separation from built-up areas to just 100 metres - within the kill radius of its 155mm high-explosive shells, generally regarded as being between 50 and 150 metres.
Disclosure of the new shelling policy, which went largely unnoted at the time, has emerged in international outcry over the latest artillery incident by Israeli gunners shelling Gaza - the killing of 19 members of an extended family in the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It was the highest Palestinian civilian toll in a single incident since the current conflict erupted in September 2000. The deaths were caused when what witnesses described as a volley of tank shells hit a built-up civilian area.
The revelation follows reports that the shelling of Gaza has continued despite the recent recognition by senior Israeli military officers, including the head of the IDF's Southern Command, that indirect artillery fire (ie, firing without seeing the target) was largely pointless in countering Palestinian rocket fire.
No one, not even the IDF, contends that the shelling of Gaza will be the least bit effective in stopping the rocket attacks. It's simply another form of collective punishment by Israel against the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, the U.S. vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning the Beit Hanoun attack, with the typically ridiculous comment from John Bolton that the resolution "does not display an even-handed characterization of the recent events in Gaza, nor does it advance the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace." Unlike, I suppose, murdering 19 family members with blind artillery fire.