JERUSALEM Human Rights Watch urged Israel on Friday to provide a full account of its air strike on a house in the Gaza Strip that killed 12 civilians last month, saying the action appeared to have been illegal.
The November 18 attack on the three-storey home of the Dalu family was the bloodiest of the eight days of fighting between the Jewish state and Gaza's Islamist Hamas-led armed factions, in which around 170 Palestinians and six Israelis died.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Israel should have anticipated the civilian toll and censured it for not proving it was justified in targeting the home.
Ten members of the Dalu family were killed, along with two neighbors.
"Attacks in which the expected civilian loss exceeds the anticipated military gain are serious violations of the laws of war," HRW said in a report.
Israel launched its November assault on the Gaza Strip in what it described as a defensive effort to disrupt Palestinian rocket capabilities.
"The Israeli claim that the attack on the Dalu home was justified is unsupported by the facts," said HRW special adviser Fred Abrahams, who conducted research in Gaza.
"The onus is on Israel to explain why it bombed a home full of civilians killing 12 people. Anyone who violated the law should be appropriately punished."
At the time of the attack, the Israeli military said it had struck the commander of Hamas's rocket-launching operations, naming him as Yihia Abayah.
The chief military spokesman later said the air force had "tried" to hit Abayah and the outcome of that attempt was unclear. He acknowledged civilians had been hurt.
On November 28, a mid-level military spokeswoman said one of the Dalu family members was a Hamas "terror operative" - signaling that Israel considered him a legitimate target - though she declined to give a name.
Neither would she say if the military knew there had been civilians in the building.
Among the dead was Mohamed Jamal Dalu, a low-ranking police officer for the Hamas government, according to Palestinian sources. They said he was not known to have taken part in fighting against Israel.
The Israeli chief military spokesman's office said on Friday it would respond to the HRW report in full in the coming days.
It issued an interim statement saying Israel had taken "numerous measures" to avoid causing innocent casualties, and accused Palestinian guerrillas of putting civilians at risk by fighting among them.
The military said the Dalu residence had been identified by Israeli intelligence "as the hideout of a senior Hamas militant who played an important role in the organization's rocket-launching infrastructure". It did not name the militant.
(Additional reporting by Maaayan Lubell and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Sophie Hares)