Page last updated at 16:16 GMT, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 17:16 UK

Israelis 'followed law in Gaza'

Israeli tank on the border with Gaza on 5 January 2009
Israel says its troops acted professionally in Gaza

The Israeli military says internal investigations show it acted according to international law during its operations in Gaza three months ago.

A small number of errors did take place, it admits, such as the deaths of 21 people in a wrongly targeted house, but it claims these were "unavoidable".

The military said Gaza militants had used civilian sites for cover.

Rights group have raised concerns about war crimes and say a wider, external investigation is needed.

Israel faced widespread accusations of operating in a disproportionate and heavy-handed way during three-week conflict in January.

Palestinians say more than 1,400 Gazans were killed, of whom more than two-thirds were civilians. Israel puts the figure lower, at 1,166 dead, of whom it says about two-thirds were fighters.

Ten Israeli soldiers were killed and three civilians died in rocket attacks.

'Suspicious figures'

The five investigations looked into some of the most controversial incidents and allegations from the war, including the firing of artillery shells near a UN-run school on 6 January.

The UN has said about 42 people were killed but Israeli military investigators said only 12 people died, five of whom they described as "terror operatives".

The investigations showed that throughout the fighting in Gaza, the IDF operated in accordance with international law
Israeli military report

Of the attack on the house of a Palestinian doctor, Izzeldeen Abuelaish, which killed three of his daughters, the military said soldiers had been targeting "suspicious figures" in the building and had urged the family to leave days earlier.

The Israeli military said its controversial use of white phosphorus, which causes severe burns, was fully legal.

Investigators said no phosphorus weapons were used in built-up areas, in direct contradiction of groups such as Human Rights Watch, who said they were used unlawfully in densely-populated areas.

The military said it had probed seven incidents in which many civilians were reportedly harmed - although several more such incidents have been documented by human rights organisations.

In one of these investigations, military officials said 21 people died when a house was hit, instead of a weapons store - and a warning phone call had been made to the wrong building beforehand.

The investigators said that Hamas "systematically used medical facilities, vehicles and uniforms as cover for terrorist operations," and that the group's military and political leaders operated from Gaza's main hospital.

Troops maintained "a high professional" level against "an enemy that aimed to terrorise Israeli civilians", the military said.

The Israeli military "operated in accordance with moral values and international laws of war", it said in a statement, and made "an enormous effort" to avoid harming uninvolved civilians.

A small number of incidents occurred in which intelligence or operational mistakes were made, the military said.

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

UN probe

The BBC's Paul Wood in Jerusalem says the investigations will not satisfy Israel's critics.

International human rights campaign group Human Rights Watch, denounced the statement it as an insult to Gaza's dead civilians and an embarrassment to any Israeli officers who took military justice seriously.

Meanwhile, a group of 10 Israeli human rights organisations called for an external, extra-military investigation, and called on Israel to cooperate with the United Nations investigation.

"Data collected by Israeli human rights organization shows that many civilians were killed in Gaza not due to 'mishaps' but as a direct result of the military's chosen policy," they said in a statement.

Earlier this month, the UN appointed former war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone to investigate alleged violations of international law during the conflict.

It is not yet clear whether Israel will cooperate with the UN probe.

Mr Goldstone and his team - which includes experts from Pakistan, Britain and Ireland - have been asked to investigate "all violations of international humanitarian law" before, during and after the Israeli campaign.

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