Israeli military air strikes and artillery attacks on the Gaza Strip during the last few days have killed over 100 Palestinians, including dozens of children and other civilian bystanders. Three Israelis – a civilian killed by a rocket fired by a Palestinian armed group on 27 February and two soldiers – were also killed.
Many of the Palestinians killed were militants involved in attacks on Israel, but others were unarmed civilians taking no part in the hostilities, including some 25 children. The precise number of civilians killed is unclear and difficult to establish.
The Israeli chief of staff is reported to have claimed that 90 percent of those killed were militants, but the UN and other sources, including those in Gaza, suggest that as many as half of the dead were civilians. More than 250 other people, including scores of unarmed civilians, have been injured.
Israeli forces also destroyed houses and property across the Gaza Strip, including at least two medical facilities, before withdrawing on 3 March.
Amnesty International said on Sunday that the Israeli military air strikes and artillery attacks on the Gaza Strip were being carried out with reckless disregard for civilian life, and called on Israel to put an immediate end to such disproportionate and reckless attacks.
"Israel has a legal obligation to protect the civilian population of Gaza,” said Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme. “These attacks are disproportionate and go beyond lawful measures which Israeli forces may take in response to rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups."
This latest cycle of killings and destruction comes at a time when the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza are confronting a humanitarian crisis as a result of the increasingly stringent blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza.
Hospitals and medical facilities, already facing severe difficulties in coping with shortages of electricity, fuel, equipment and spare parts due to the Israeli blockade, are struggling to cope with the new influx of casualties caused by Israeli attacks in the last few days.
With Gaza's borders sealed, many patients in dire need of medical care that is not available in Gaza cannot be transferred to hospitals abroad and risk losing their lives.
In the past two months, Israeli forces have killed more than 230 Palestinians in Gaza, including scores of unarmed civilians, and wounded and maimed many others. During the same period, Palestinian armed groups have continued to fire qassam and other rockets indiscriminately at Israel from the Gaza Strip, mostly towards the town of Sderot but also, last week, the more distant town of Ashkelon.
One Israeli civilian has been killed and several injured by such rockets fired from Gaza into Sderot and other areas by Palestinian armed groups.
Amnesty International has again called on Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to ensure that Palestinian armed groups cease immediately from carrying out indiscriminate attacks against Israel, and for those responsible to be held to account.
"It is high time that the leaders of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) took effective steps to prevent and punish attacks on civilians in Israel," said Malcolm Smart, "but their failure to do so does not make it legitimate for the Israeli authorities to launch reckless air and artillery strikes which wreak such death and destruction among Palestinian civilians.
"At the same time, the Palestinian armed groups who launch frequent rocket attacks from Gaza into nearby Israeli towns not only show a callous disregard for the lives of Israeli civilians but also expose the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip to the danger of Israeli attacks."
Malcolm Smart said that Amnesty International condemned all attacks on civilians, but that "unlawful attacks by one side cannot justify violations by the other."