A UN investigation into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza has found evidence that both sides committed "war crimes."
The United Nations said the investigation led by former South African judge Richard Goldstone concluded that "Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity," during its Dec. 27-Jan. 18 military operations in the Palestinian territories.
For the full UN report click here
The global body said the report released Tuesday "concludes there is also evidence that Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity," by firing rockets into southern Israel.
Israel refused to cooperate with the investigation, saying the UN Human Rights Council that ordered it was biased against the Jewish state.
The 575-page report, which was released ahead of its presentation to the UN Human Rights Council later this month, said Israel's attacks in the Samouni neighborhood of Zeitoun, south of Gaza City, including the shelling of a house where soldiers had forced Palestinian civilians to assemble, amounted to war crimes.
It found that seven incidents where civilians were shot while leaving their homes trying to run for safety, waving white flags and sometimes even following Israeli instructions, as well as the targeting of a mosque at prayer time, killing 15 people, were also war crimes.
A "direct and intentional attack" on the Al Quds Hospital and an adjacent ambulance depot in Gaza City "may constitute war crimes," the report said.
'Biased testimonies against Israel'
Several Palestinians told the mission they were used as human shields by the Israeli forces, the report said, noting the case of Majdi Abd Rabbo, a 39-year-old intelligence officer of the Palestinian authority who was forced to walk ahead of the troops as they searched his and his neighbor's house. Rabbo was forced to undress down to his underwear in front of the soldiers and his sons had to strip naked, the report said.
"Israeli armed forces launched numerous attacks against buildings and persons of the Gaza authorities. Government and armed forces representatives justified the attacks arguing that political and administrative institutions in Gaza are part of the 'Hamas terrorist infrastructure'. The Mission rejects this position. It finds that there is no evidence that the Legislative Council building and the Gaza main prison made an effective contribution to military action," said the report.
"On the information available to it, the Mission finds that the attacks on these buildings constituted deliberate attacks on civilian objects in violation of the rule of customary international humanitarian law whereby attacks must be strictly limited to military objectives. These facts further indicate the commission of the grave breach of extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly," it said.
Destruction in Gaza following IDF operation (archive photo: AFP)
The investigation further concluded that "the attacks against the police facilities on the first day of the armed operations failed to strike an acceptable balance between the direct military advantage anticipated (i.e. the killing of those policemen who may have been members of Palestinian armed groups) and the loss of civilian life (i.e. the other policemen killed and members of the public who would inevitably have been present or in the vicinity), and therefore violated international humanitarian law."
As for the Israeli siege on Gaza, the report said, "In addition to creating an emergency situation, the blockade significantly weakened the capacities of the population and of the health, water and other public sectors to react to the emergency created by the military operations.
The Foreign Ministry issued the following statement: "Israel is appalled and disappointed by the report, which compares it to Hamas and rewards acts of terror. We will treat it accordingly.
"The Goldstone report attempts to rewrite a shameful chapter in the history of international law and nations' right to defend themselves. The verdict was preordained by Geneva and the committee did nothing but gather biased testimonies against Israel.
"Israel does not require any external reminder to probe its just actions, especially from a radical body which is comprised from 'moral' nations the likes of Malaysia, Syria, Pakistan and Somalia."
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said the report reflects the "UN's double standard and hypocrisy."
"We didn’t see the UN rush to probe other nations that deal with terror via military means. No nation in the world would allow daily shelling of its cities to go unmet."
Knesset Member Tzachi Hanegbi (Kadima), chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said Goldstone's report "is even more hypocritical than hundreds of previous shameful UN reports that have been issued over the past few decades.
Speaking to Ynet, Hanegbi said Israel "rejects the attempt to turn it from victim to aggressor…Israel waited for years before exercising its natural right to self defense against zealous terror organizations, while striving as much as possible, under fighting conditions, to avoid harming the innocent.
"This policy put IDF soldier's in harm's way on more than one occasion," he said.
On the Palestinian side the report found that armed groups firing rockets into southern Israel from Gaza failed to distinguish between military targets and the civilian population.
"Where there is no intended military target and the rockets and mortars are launched into civilian areas, they constitute a deliberate attack against the civilian population," the report found.
"These actions would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity."