UNITED NATIONS — A U.N. investigation concluded Tuesday that both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, raising the prospect that officials may seek prosecution in the International Criminal Court.
The probe 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 against Palestinian rocket squads in the Gaza Strip.
In a 575-page report, Goldstone and three other investigators also found evidence "that Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity."
Findings about Israel: The report said that Israel's attacks in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, including the shelling of a house where soldiers had forced Palestinian civilians to assemble, amounted to war crimes.
It found seven incidents in which 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.
Investigators found no evidence the mosque was used to store weapons or for any military activity by Palestinian armed groups but said they were unable to look more broadly at Israel's allegation that the mosques were used generally by Palestinian groups for storing weapons.
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.
Several Palestinians told the mission they were used as human shields by the Israeli forces, the report said.
Findings about Palestinians: 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 said. "These actions would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity."
Goldstone agreed to lead the probe only after he had won agreement from the Belgian president of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, which ordered the investigation, to look at Palestinian actions as well.
Israel, which refused to cooperate with the investigation, said the Human Rights Council was biased by its 47-nation constituency, over which Arab and developing nations hold sway. The investigation was ordered earlier this year, before the United States joined as a member.
The Palestinian group Hamas rules Gaza and has been accused by Israel of using human shields during the conflict, in which almost 1,400 Palestinians were killed - many of them civilians. Thirteen Israelis also died, including four civilians.
"The mandate of the mission and the resolution establishing it prejudged the outcome of any investigation, gave legitimacy to the Hamas terrorist organization and disregarded the deliberate Hamas strategy of using Palestinian civilians as cover for launching terrorist attacks," Israel's Foreign Ministry said.
Hamas officials were not immediately available for comment.