Israel claims Gaza offensive ‘lawful’, accuses Hamas of war crimes

Jerusalem, (IANS) Israel released on Sunday an official report on its military campaign against the Gaza Strip last summer, claiming that its massive offensive was 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, which, according to the UN, left 2,220 Palestinians dead, including at least 1,492 civilians. 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 could do to avoid civilian casualties, Xinhua news agency reported.

According to the report, the high number of casualties was caused by Hamas and other militant organisations 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”, it 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”.

Israel accused Hamas and other Gaza militant groups of “intentionally and systematically” targeting civilians in Israel.

Earlier on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that reading the UNHRC report, due to be issued on July 29 “would be a waste of time”.

The UNHRC fact-finding mission was appointed last August. Israel has refused to officially cooperate with the team, arguing it was “biased” in favour of the Palestinians.

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 Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza war at ICC. ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had then said she was still weighing the options of opening war crimes probes into the Gaza campaign.

She also rejected Israel’s fears of bias, promising to consider the evidence impartially.

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