Israel released on Sunday an official report on its military campaign against the Gaza Strip last summer, and claims that its massive offensive is lawful, while accusing the Islamic Hamas movement of committing “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
The 277-page report was issued in an attempt to forestall the upcoming release of findings by a UN-appointed team that investigated possible war crimes during Israel’s 50-day campaign in July and August.
The mini war left 2,220 Palestinians dead, including at least 1,492 civilians, according to the UN. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers were killed along with five civilians.
The report, issued by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, clears Israel of unlawful actions, saying it did all it can do to avoid harming civilian casualties.
According to the report, the high number of casualties was caused by Hamas and other militant organizations that “embedded their military assets and operations within densely populated areas and civilian structures.”
The use of civilian surroundings “often constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the report claimed.
It also posed “significant operational, legal and ethical challenges” for the Israeli military, the report said, adding that despite Israel’s commitment to “the rule of law and efforts to protect civilians, an unfortunate result of the complex realities is that during the 2014 Gaza conflict numerous civilians were caught in the hostilities.”
Israeli military surveillance systems identified some 550 rockets and mortars that were launched from civil sites such as UN facilities, schools, hospitals, mosques, residential buildings, and their immediate vicinity, according to the report.
Israel accuses Hamas and other Gaza militant groups of “intentionally and systematically” targeting civilians in Israel.
More than 4,500 rockets and mortars were launched during the fighting, “approximately 4,000 of which were deliberately directed at Israel’s civilian population,” the report read.
Earlier on Sunday, as Israel was gearing up its efforts to pre-empt the UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) report, which will be issued on July 29, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that reading the UNHRC report “would be a waste of time.”
“We will act everywhere and as necessary in order to contend with false claims and anti-Israel initiatives,” Netanyahu told his ministers at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
In November, a report by Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization focused on human rights, portrayed a pattern of attacks on Palestinian civilian homes by Israeli forces, “which in some cases have amounted to war crimes.”
On Thursday, Israel’s military Advocate General announced it had cleared its forces of wrongdoing over the death of four Palestinian kids, who were killed by Israeli bombards at the coast of Gaza. The Advocate General said that an error of identification led to the “tragic” result.
The UNHRC fact finding mission was appointed last August. Israel has refused to officially cooperate with the team, arguing it is “biased” in favor of the Palestinians.
The team’s chief investigator William Schabas, a Canadian professor of international law, resigned in February after over a consultancy work he once provided to the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
While speaking ill of the UN report, Israel could also face lawsuits filed by the Palestinian authorities at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague against its air and ground offensive last year.
Last month, the Palestinian authorities said they would file suits related to the Israeli settlement in the West Bank and the Gaza war at the court on June 25. The Palestinians have officially joined the ICC this April.
Fatou Bensouda, The ICC’s chief prosecutor, said earlier last month that she was still weighing the options to open war crimes probes into the military campaign last summer.
She also rejected Israel’s fears of bias by the court, and promised to consider the evidence independently and impartially without fear or favor.
“We will of course look into the alleged crimes committed by all sides to the conflict. I have made this clear to both Israeli and Palestinian officials,” she said.
Bensouda said that so far her deliberations were still at a preliminary stage and no investigation had been opened into anyone from either side. The ICC is now still at a preliminary stage, and no formal investigations have been called. Yet Israel still branded such deliberations are absurd. Enditem