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Middle East

Military defends conduct during Gaza incursion

Latest update : 2009-04-22

The Israeli army says an internal investigation has proved that its forces operated "in accordance with international law" during an assault on the Gaza Strip earlier this year. Several Israeli human rights groups have cast doubt on the findings.

AFP - The Israeli army on Wednesday defended its conduct during a devastating war against Hamas in Gaza earlier this year, rejecting claims it had violated international law.

Five investigations carried out by the military found that the army "operated in accordance with international law," the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said in a statement.

The military "maintained a high professional and moral level" while facing an enemy that deliberately fought from within civilian areas, it said.

"The enemy booby-trapped its houses with explosives, fired from the schools attended by its own children and used its own people as human shields while cynically abusing the IDF legal and ethical commitment to avoid injuring uninvolved civilians."

A group of Israeli human rights organisations said that the results of the army's internal investigation were "problematic" and that an independent probe was the only way to investigate the allegations.

"Data collected by Israeli human rights organisations shows that many civilians were killed in Gaza not due to 'mishaps' but as a direct result of the military’s chosen policy implemented throughout the fighting," the 10 groups said in a statement.

"The only way to investigate violations of human rights committed in Gaza is by establishing an external, extra-military investigation mechanism."

Israel has come under a barrage of criticism in the wake of the 22-day war in Gaza that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, with rights groups and some UN officials saying that the Jewish state could be guilty of war crimes.

The UN has set up a commission headed by former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone to probe allegations of crimes during the offensive. Israel has said it would not cooperate with the inquiry.

The military statement said that its investigations "revealed a very small number of incidents in which intelligence or operational errors took place during the fighting."

Among these was an attack on a residence in the Zeitun neighbourhood in southern Gaza City in which 21 people were killed when forces mistakenly targetted a home rather than a nearby weapon storage facility, deputy chief of staff Major General Dan Harel told reporters.

"These unfortunate incidents were unavoidable and occur in all combat situations, in particular of the type which Hamas forced on the IDF by choosing to fight from within the civilian population," he said.

Top among the charges levelled against the Israeli military was its use of white phosphorous shells, which are allowed for use on open battlefields to create a smokescreen for troops, but prohibited in densely populated areas where it can light fires that are virtually impossible to extinguish and inflict severe burn wounds.

Harel said that the army's use of phosphorous munitions was "in accordance with international humanitarian law."

In its statement, the IDF said that it made every effort to avoid civilian casualties, including by dropping more than two million leaflets and by placing more than 165,000 phone calls warning residents of the blockaded territory of impending attacks.

"The IDF had to face difficult moral dilemmas as a result of the illegitimate approach of Hamas," said the statement.

"This approach turned Gaza’s urban areas into a battle field and intentionally made use of uninvolved civilians, civilian buildings and sensitive humanitarian facilities" like hospitals and UN buildings, it said.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak hailed the army's investigations and said that "they proved that the IDF is among most moral armies in the world. The IDF is not afraid of investigating itself and thus prove the morality of its actions," according to a statement from his office.

Date created : 2009-04-22