Israel Pre-Empts U.N. Report on Gaza War

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -

Israel on Sunday pre-empted an upcoming U.N. report into last year’s war in the Gaza Strip, saying the report is unfairly biased and issuing its own account that blames Gaza’s Hamas terrorist rulers for the heavy civilian casualties.

The diplomatic offensive set the stage for what is expected to be a contentious showdown with U.N. officials over allegations that Israel committed war crimes during the 50-day war.

The Palestinians have joined the International Criminal Court and are pursuing war crimes charges against Israel. The council’s new report, expected as soon as this week, could play a key role in the case against Israel.

“Having on the record our view of this war is extremely important, and we have nothing to hide,” Dore Gold, the new director of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters at a special briefing held to unveil the 242-page investigation into the war.

Gold was accompanied by the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Tzipi Hotovely, and governmental and military legal experts who worked on the report.

Israel launched its offensive in Gaza last July 8 in response to heavy rocket fire from Hamas and other groups in the territory. More than 2,200 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed during the fighting, according to U.N. and Palestinian officials, while 73 people died on the Israeli side.

Palestinians have said that the Israeli army violated the rules of war, which include giving adequate warning to civilians, using proportionate force and distinguishing between civilians and combatants. They have pointed to the high civilian casualty count as evidence.

In Sunday’s report, Israel defended itself with the same arguments it has been making since the fighting ended, albeit with a level of detail never shown before.

Israel’s core claim is that Hamas is responsible for the civilian casualties because it used Gaza’s residents as “human shields” by firing rockets from residential areas and operating in schools, hospitals and mosques. It also notes that Hamas’ rockets and mortar shells were aimed at Israeli population centers.

The report includes what Israel says are seized Hamas documents encouraging its fighters to move in civilian areas, knowing that it would constrain Israel’s ability to act.

Israel has cited unprecedented measures taken by the IDF to avoid civilian casualties, ordering residents to evacuate through leaflets, phone calls, radio broadcasts and warning strikes with unarmed shells ahead of live airstrikes.

A declassified “target card” shown to reporters laid out the precautions Israel took before striking a suspected arms cache hidden in the home of an Islamic Jihad leader in southern Gaza.

The “operational directives” listed on the card call for destroying the arms while avoiding civilian casualties. It calls for a single airstrike on the home, at night and only after warning people to leave, and “real-time surveillance” to be on the lookout for civilians.

The army went through a similar process in all 5,000 preplanned airstrikes carried out during the fighting, though there were hundreds of reactive strikes as well. According to the latest Israeli figures, some 44 percent of the dead in Gaza were terrorists, far higher than Palestinian and U.N. numbers.

Over the weekend, Israel released a report compiled by a group of retired Western military officers who found that Israel met or “significantly exceeded” the international laws of war. The report was sponsored by the “Friends of Israel Initiative,” a pro-Israel group of retired politicians and diplomats from around the world.

“Those who want to know the truth should read this report and read the report of the top generals,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. “Whoever wants a baseless automatic accusation against Israel can waste their time reading the U.N. report.”

Israel has attacked the council’s latest investigation since it was ordered last July. The investigation’s mandate focuses on Israel’s activities in Gaza, but makes no mention of Hamas attacks on Israel.