JERUSALEM – The Israeli military said Wednesday that its internal investigations concluded it did not violate international law during the Gaza war, bluntly deflecting war crimes allegations by human rights groups.
Rights activists renewed their call for an independent inquiry, saying the military was "incapable" of looking at "the whole range of violations."
The military conducted five separate investigations into some of its most controversial actions during the war, including attacks on U.N. and international facilities, shooting at medical workers and hospitals and the use in densely populated Gaza of white phosphorous, a chemical agent that causes horrific burns.
The military said the investigations uncovered "a very small number of incidents" in which intelligence or operational errors took place during the fighting. One included an airstrike that killed 21 members of the same family.
"These unfortunate incidents were unavoidable and occur in all combat situations, in particular of the type that Hamas forced on the (Israeli military), by choosing to fight from within the civilian population," the military told reporters in a briefing to reporters in Tel Aviv
It said it maintained "a high professional and ethical level" while facing an enemy that took cover among uninvolved civilians.
Israel launched its three-week offensive on Dec. 27 in an effort to halt daily rocket attacks from Gaza that had terrorized southern Israel for years, especially since the Islamic militant Hamas overran Gaza in June 2007. The use of air and ground power was unprecedented in Israel's war against Palestinian militants, who operated from within residential areas.
The army also reaffirmed its count of war deaths, which differed significantly from the Palestinian tally.
The military's deputy chief of staff, Brig-Gen. Dan Harel, said Israel has identified 1,166 dead in Gaza, including 709 Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants.
Israel says 295 of the dead were civilians and the identity of an additional 162 could not be confirmed.
The Palestinians said more than 1,400 people were killed, including more than 900 civilians.
A former U.N. chief prosecutor for war crimes, Richard Goldstone, recently was appointed to head a U.N. investigation into atrocities allegedly committed during Israel's three-week war against Gaza's Islamic Hamas rulers.
The investigation called by the U.N.'s Human Rights Council was only supposed to look at Israeli conduct. But Goldstone didn't accept the assignment until the mandate was changed to also examine Palestinian actions.