KHAN YOUNES, May 7, 2015 (WAFA) – Israeli forces Monday opened gunfire at Palestinian farmlands near the borders to the east of Khan Younes, south of the Gaza Strip, according to WAFA correspondent.
WAFA reporter said that troops stationed at borderline military watchtowers opened heavy fire on farmlands to the southeast of the city, causing financial damages to homes that are close to the border fence. However, there were no reports of casualties.
Meanwhile, forces proceeded since the early morning hours to bulldoze Palestinian-owned land located near the borderline to the east of Khan Younis. They further set up earth mounds in the area.
Israeli troops routinely open fire at Palestinian farmers and other civilians if they approach borderline lands. Israel has unilaterally declared a buffer zone extending between 500 meters and 1500 meters into the Strip, effectively turning local farms into no-go zones.
According to a United Nations’ OCHA, 17 percent of Gaza’s total land area and 35 percent of its agricultural land lie within the buffer zone as of 2010, directly affecting the lives and livelihoods of more than 100,000 Gaza residents.
“ Israeli forces’ use of live ammunition has placed up to 35 percent of Gaza’s agricultural land off-limits to farmers,’ it said.
Attacks by Israeli military and navy on farmers and fishermen come despite the signing of a ceasefire deal between Israel and the Palestinian factions on August 26 2014. The deal was supposed to put an end to all kinds of hostilities, however, multiple breaches by Israel have been reported.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), The Israeli military has issued directives prohibiting any Palestinian presence on land within Gaza abutting the territory’s perimeter fence, currently up to 300 meters from the fence, but Israeli forces have frequently shot at Palestinians beyond that distance.
According to UN figures Israeli military forces have killed four and wounded more than 60 civilians near the perimeter fence with Gaza since the beginning of 2014.
Human Rights Watch investigated seven incidents between January 2 and March 1 2014, in which Israeli forces shot civilians in the vicinity of the fence; Four were killed, including a high school student on a picnic and a woman with an intellectual disability who was lost.
Five others were wounded, including two journalists and two demonstrators planting olive trees, none of whom posed a threat to the soldiers or others, said HRW.
The Israeli military has not claimed that any of the victims in the seven cases were engaged in military operations or that armed groups were in the area when the shooting occurred, said HRW.
‘Month after month, Israeli forces have wounded and killed unarmed Palestinians who did nothing but cross an invisible, shifting line that Israel has drawn inside Gaza’s perimeter,’ said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director.
““It’s appalling that soldiers have shot men, women, and children apparently for simply crossing a line,” Said Whitson.
“Shooting at civilians is not a lawful policy near Gaza’s perimeter fence or anywhere else,” Whitson said. “Israeli commanders need to change their policies and practices to abide by international law, not flaunt it.”
Under international human rights law, “lethal force may only be used when strictly necessary to prevent an imminent threat to life. Israeli soldiers do not face an imminent lethal threat from unarmed Palestinian civilians in areas of Gaza near the perimeter fence.”
“In violation of international humanitarian law (or the laws of war) which prohibits attacks on civilians, Israeli soldiers have repeatedly shot at civilians near the fence on the Palestinian side.”
HRW noted that under the laws of war, attacks may only be directed at military objectives, such as enemy combatants.
“Forces must do everything feasible to verify that targets are military objectives, and if there is doubt, must cancel the attack. While civilians who take a direct part in hostilities are subject to attack, merely entering a prohibited area does not meet that requirement. Military personnel who willfully kill civilians are committing a war crime.”
HRW noted that the economy of the Gaza Strip has been severely harmed by Israel’s and Egypt’s border closures, with unemployment at almost 40 percent and more than 70 percent of the population receiving humanitarian assistance.
Israel has imposed a tightened blockade since 2007 after Hamas won the democratic legislative elections and took over power in the strip.