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JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday criticized an upcoming United Nations report into last year's war in the Gaza Strip, calling it a waste of time.
Instead, he said an in-depth Israeli report -- and another unofficial report compiled by a group of retired Western generals -- show "the truth" behind the fighting. Both documents say Israel did its utmost to avoid civilian casualties and said Gaza's Islamic militant Hamas rulers deliberately attacked Israeli civilians while using their own people as human shields.
"Those who want to know the truth should read this report and read the report of the top generals," Netanyahu told his Cabinet. "Whoever wants a baseless, automatic accusation against Israel can waste their time reading the U.N report. As far as we are concerned, we will continue to protect our soldiers and they will continue to protect us."
Over 2,200 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed, while 73 people died on the Israeli side.
Israel says Gaza's Hamas rulers are responsible for the civilian casualties because it launched attacks from residential areas. 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.
The U.N. Human Rights Council's report is expected to be released this week. In anticipation, Israel prepared a report it says proves Hamas' criminal intentions and exonerates Israel of the war crimes allegations against it.
In a boost to the Israeli case, the High Level International Military Group, made up of 11 former chiefs of staff, generals and other senior American and European officials who conducted a fact-finding mission, came to similar conclusions. It said: "None of us is aware of any army that takes such extensive measures as did the (Israeli military) last summer to protect the lives of the civilian population in such circumstances."
The Israeli report released Sunday said "Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip intentionally and systematically used strategies designed to maximize harm to civilian life and property, both in Israel and in the Gaza Strip."
It said that by using that strategy of "conducting hostilities from within civilian surroundings, Hamas and other terrorist organizations frequently turned civilian structures into military objectives, exposing them and surrounding civilians to risk of harm, in a manner which violated the Law of Armed Conflict and often constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity."
The report pointed out that Hamas and other Palestinian groups used U.N. facilities, schools, hospitals, mosques, residential buildings, and their immediate vicinity, for military purposes.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri rejected the Israeli investigation. "The report turns the truth and is valueless because part of these crimes was committed live in front of the cameras, apart from the huge amount of martyrs, wounded and wide destruction that confirm that these crimes were deliberate."