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Govt admits white phosphorus use, but denies violating law

Israel said on Thursday that it is investigating 100 complaints of misconduct by its forces in the Gaza offensive and admitted that troops had used white phosphorous munitions, which cause serious burns, but not violated international law.

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REUTERS - Israel said Thursday it was investigating 100 complaints of misconduct by its forces in a Gaza offensive this year and admitted its troops had fired white phosphorous munitions but not in violation of international law.

 

A 163-page government statement issued in anticipation of a United Nations war crimes investigation headed for completion next month defended the 22-day as a "necessary and proportionate" response to Hamas rocket fire at Israel.

 

Some 1,400 Palestinians, many of them civilians, and 13 Israelis were killed in the Dec. 27-Jan. 18 operation and Israel has repeatedly rebuffed war crimes charges by several human rights groups.

 

In its report published by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Israel calls the war its response to shootings by Hamas Islamist militants in Gaza of 12,000 rockets over eight years alongside suicide bombings that killed 1,100 in Israel.

 

It restated Israel's insistence it complied with international law in the 22-day campaign, adding it was "conducting comprehensive investigations" into 100 pending complaints after inquiries from U.N. and human rights groups.

 

Thirteen criminal files have also been opened, most involving allegations Israeli soldiers used civilians as human shields or perpetrated property damage, the report added.

 

Israel previously has said internal investigations by its armed forces had found no evidence of serious misconduct by troops in the Gaza fighting.

 

Israel also admitted outright for the first time in the report that its army had "used munitions containing white phosphorous" in Gaza, but denied violating international law, saying it had not fired such weapons inside populated areas.

 

Previously Israel had said it was investigating allegations that it fired weapons with phosphorous, which cause serious burns, without directly denying or confirming it had done so.

 

Israel has not cooperated with a United Nations probe headed by former chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone, accusing the organisation of bias against the Jewish state.

 

But the investigation due in August seemed a catalyst behind Israel's report, in addition to charges published this month by 30 Israeli veterans saying they were encouraged to minimise their own casualties rather than avoid civilian deaths in Gaza.

 

"There are constant efforts to keep this issue on the agenda, and we reached the conclusion we should prepare a complete explanation so there would be a clear Israeli statement as to why we did what we did and how," an Israeli ministry official said.

 

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