The Israeli army has announced eight new criminal investigations into operations during last summer’s war in the Gaza Strip, including one of its deadliest airstrikes that killed more than two dozen Palestinians, including 19 children, in a family home.
The announcement, which came late Saturday, included unusually detailed descriptions of case reviews by the military, reflecting an effort by Israel to parry a United Nations inquiry and allegations by human rights groups that its forces committed war crimes during the conflict.
More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of the civilians, by U.N. count, were killed during the 50-day war in July and August against the militant Islamist group Hamas. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed.
Human rights groups have called for an independent inquiry into the army’s conduct of the war that would go beyond investigations of alleged violations of its rules of engagement.
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“The main cause of the terrible loss of civilian life in the Gaza Strip was not the result of soldiers disobeying regulations, but a matter of policy,” said Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. “The issue is more the orders themselves, rather than whether they were violated.”
A signature tactic of the Israeli campaign was bombing family homes of suspected militants, attacks that caused extensive civilian casualties, according to witnesses and rights groups that investigated the incidents. The army said that the homes were targeted because they were used as command centers for militant activity.
In its statement on its latest probes, the army said a criminal investigation had been ordered into a strike on July 20 on the home of the Abu Jama family in the town of Khan Yunis. In addition to the 19 children, eight others died in the attack.
Materials collected by a military fact-finding panel “indicated the existence of grounds for a reasonable suspicion that the incident involved a deviation from the rules and procedures,” the army said.
Amnesty International, in a report last month on the Israeli house-bombings in Gaza, called the strike on the Abu Jama home “grossly disproportionate” under international law. It said the attack appeared to have targeted a member of the armed wing of Hamas who was outside the building.
The bombing, along with similar strikes on other family houses, showed “a shocking disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians” and in some cases amounted to war crimes, Amnesty International said.
The military said it would also carry out criminal investigations into the killing of two ambulance drivers on July 25 and an incident on July 29 in which, according to a rights group, a Palestinian carrying a white flag was killed and members of his family were used by troops as human shields. Four other probes will look into suspected looting.
The army said it had closed seven other cases it reviewed after findings showed no evidence of violations by its forces.
One of those incidents was a widely publicized strike on July 12 that hit a rehabilitation center in Beit Lahiya in which two handicapped women were killed. The army review found that the target was a weapons depot in the home of a Hamas militant in the same building, that early warnings were given, and that Israeli forces were not aware at the time that the structure also housed the rehabilitation center.
The killing of the two women was “ a regrettable result” of the attack, “but it does not affects its legality post facto,” the army said.
Another widely reported attack on Al-Wafa hospital in Gaza City was carried out after the building had been used by Hamas to fire at Israeli forces and track their movements, the army said.
Two strikes on July 28 that hit a clinic of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and a park in the Shati refugee camp, where 10 people, including nine children, were killed, were found to have been caused by rockets fired by Palestinian militants, the military said.
Since the war, the army has launched 13 criminal investigations into suspected violations by its forces out of about 100 cases submitted for review. Eighty-five of the incidents are still being examined, the army said.