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Israel, Palestinian armed groups committed grave violations in Gaza, UN says

Israel and Palestinian armed groups committed grave violations during the 2014 Gaza conflict that may amount to war crimes, United Nations investigators say.

Yearlong investigation says war crimes may have been committed in 2014 conflict

Israel and Palestinian armed groups allegedly committed grave violations in 2014 1:41

Israel disputed on Monday the findings of a UN report that it may have committed war crimes in the 2014 Gaza conflict, saying its forces acted "according to the highest international standards".

There was no immediate comment from Hamas, the dominant Palestinian movement in the Gaza Strip, which the report said might bear responsibility for war crimes that included "indiscriminate" firing of rockets at Israeli towns.

"It is regrettable that the report fails to recognize the profound difference between Israel's moral behaviour during Operation Protective Edge and the terror organizations it confronted," the Israeli Foeign Ministry said in a statement, referring to the 50-day Gaza war last July and August.

"In defending itself against attacks, Israel's military acted according to the highest international standards."

Saeb Erekat, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement: "The State of Palestine will review the findings and recommendations of the [UN] commission with the highest consideration, in line with its staunch commitment to ensuring respect for these esteemed bodies of international law."

Echoing previous Israeli statements during the year-long UN inquiry, the foreign ministry said the report by the UN Human Rights Council was commissioned by "a notoriously biased institution" that has a "singular obsession" with Israel.

More than 1,400 killed in Gaza, UN says

Citing such alleged bias and what it called a lack of the necessary expertise to conduct a professional and serious examination of an armed conflict, the ministry said Israel would consider the report "in light of these essential failings".

The report called on Israel to explain its "targeting decisions" to allow independent assessment of its attacks on the Gaza Strip, where they said 1,462 civilians were killed and thousands of homes destroyed.

The independent investigators, led by American Mary McGowan Davis, also condemned what they found were executions of alleged Palestinian "collaborators" with Israel by militants in Gaza, saying these killings appeared to constitute war crimes.
Smoke is seen following what witnesses said was an Israeli airstrike in Gaza in 2014. UN investigators called on Israel to provide details of its 'targeting decisions' to allow independent assessment of its attacks. (Ahmed Zakot/Reuters)

A ceasefire last August ended 50 days of fighting between Gaza militants and Israel, in which health officials said more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed. Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.

 Israel disputes the makeup of the Palestinian casualty figures, saying that nearly half the dead were militants.

Israeli airstrikes and shelling hammered the densely populated enclave dominated by the Islamist Hamas movement, causing widespread destruction of homes and schools. For their part, Gaza militants fired thousands of rockets and mortar bombs into Israel.

"The commission was able to gather substantial information pointing to serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by Israel and by Palestinian armed groups. In some cases, these violations may amount to war crimes," the United Nations report said.

"The fact that the [Israeli] political and military leadership did not change its course of action, despite considerable information regarding the massive degree of death and destruction in Gaza, raises questions about potential violations of international humanitarian law by these officials, which may amount to war crimes."

The report said the onus was on Israel to provide details of how it chose its targets in Gaza to "allow an independent assessment of the legality of the attacks".

Israel says its offensive was lawful

Palestinians joined the International Criminal Court (ICC) after the war, a move opposed by Israel, and the Hague-based court is examining possible war crimes in the conflict.

William Schabas, who initially headed the UN inquiry, quit in February over Israeli accusations of bias due to consultancy work he had done for the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Schabas was not involved in writing the report although he took part in the research, UN officials and diplomats say.

Israel issued a report earlier this month arguing its 2014 Gaza offensive was lawful, a move aimed at pre-empting the release of findings of the UN investigation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scorned as a waste of time.

Amnesty International said in late May that Hamas committed war crimes, including abductions, torture and unlawful killings, against Palestinian civilians it accused of "collaborating" with Israel during the conflict.

Hamas has denied any wrongdoing in the Gaza conflict, saying it acted to protect Palestinians.

The United States, the Israelis' staunch ally in the UN Human Rights Council, accuses the Geneva forum of a long-standing bias against Israel. It said the UN report had "problematic origins" as its authors lacked experience of international humanitarian law.

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