Amnesty International accused Israel and Palestinian militants of war crimes Thursday in the most comprehensive report on the recent Gaza war. Both sides rejected the findings.
Israel used excessive force in violation of international laws of war, killing hundreds of Palestinian civilians and destroying thousands of Gaza homes, the human rights group claimed. And Palestinian militants committed war crimes each time they fired a rocket at Israeli civilians, it said.
Israel and Hamas both denounced the report as unbalanced. Israel
charged that Amnesty "succumbed to the manipulations of the Hamas
terror organization." Hamas accused the rights group of downplaying the scale of the destruction Israel left behind.
More than 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 900 civilians, were killed during the three-week offensive, according to Gaza health officials and human rights groups. Israel, which launched the war in late December to halt years of rocket and mortar attacks on its southern communities, put the death toll closer to 1,100.
Thirteen Israelis also were killed, including three civilians who died from rocket fire.
Amnesty's 117-page report said "disturbing questions" remained about why high-precision Israeli weapons like tank shells and air-delivered bombs and missiles "killed so many children and other civilians." And it called on Israel to stop using artillery, white phosphorus and other imprecise weapons in densely populated areas.
It also accused Israeli forces of using Palestinians as "human shields" and frequently blocking civilians from receiving medical care and humanitarian aid.
Amnesty counts some 300 Palestinian children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians among the Gaza dead. Thousands of buildings were also destroyed in what the rights group called sometimes "wanton and deliberate" Israeli assaults.
The Israeli military said the report did not properly recognize "the unbearable reality of nine years of incessant and indiscriminate rocket fire on the citizens of Israel." It also ignored the military's efforts to minimize civilian casualties in a battlefield where Hamas used residential areas, medical facilities, schools and mosques as cover to stage attacks, the military said in a statement.
"It presents a distorted view of the laws of war that does not comply with the rules implemented by democratic states battling terror," the statement said.
Amnesty said Israel did not respond to investigators' repeated requests for information on specific cases detailed in the report and for meetings to discuss the organization's findings.
The group's findings were based on physical evidence and testimony that a team of four researchers, including a military expert, gathered from dozens of attack sites in Gaza and southern Israel during and after the war, said Donatella Rovera, who headed the Amnesty field research mission.
It broke little new ground, concentrating on issues, cases and problems that have been dealt with before.
Among the Gaza cases cited were the well-documented shelling of a house where a family took refuge on soldiers' orders before 21 people were killed; an Israeli artillery attack near a U.N. school that killed dozens; and the shelling of a house that killed three daughters of a Gaza doctor who has worked in Israel for years and is a champion of coexistence.
The report also denounced Hamas for firing rockets into Israel.
"Such unlawful attacks constitute war crimes and are unacceptable," Rovera said.
Hamas called a news conference Thursday to criticize the report.
"The report equated the victim and the executioner and denied our people's right to resist the occupation," said spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. "The report ignores the scale of destruction and serious
crimes committed by the occupation in Gaza ... and provides a misleading description in order to reduce the magnitude of the Israeli crimes."