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Copyright (c) 2009 Human Rights Brief
Human Rights Brief

IN THIS ISSUE: Operation Cast Lead: Drawing the Battle Lines of the Legal Dispute

Spring, 2009

16 Hum. Rts. Br. 25


by Dr. Avril McDonald*



ON SATURDAY, 27 DECEMBER 2008, ISRAEL COMMENCED OPERATION CAST LEAD, A MILITARY OPERATION DIRECTED AGAINST TARGETS WITHIN THE 360 KM<2> GAZA STRIP. The first phase of the operation consisted of aerial bombardment. Then, on 3 January 2009, Israeli Defense Forces ("IDF") launched a ground invasion. The operation ceased on 18 January 2009 following unilateral declarations of ceasefire, first by Israel and then Hamas. By then more than 1,400 Palestinians had been killed, approximately 700-900 of whom were estimated by human rights organizations to be non-combatants. Hamas rocket attacks against southern Israeli towns killed thirteen Israeli civilians.

This note does not opine on what precipitated Operation Cast Lead or who was to blame for starting it, nor does it offer definitive conclusions regarding the lawfulness of the military operations of either side. The aim, rather, is to identify the contours of the legal framework in which the events of 27 December-18 January can be assessed.

As the claim has been made that Operation Cast Lead was preceded and precipitated by a breach of the jus ad bellum, i.e., an act of aggression, the paper begins with a brief discussion of the relationship between jus ad bellum and jus in bello, i.e., international humanitarian law (IHL). It then examines whether the events of 27 December-18 January can be characterized as an armed conflict and, if so, which kind; who are the parties; and what is the applicable law. The piece concludes by offering some preliminary remarks ...
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