(Adds army comments, reaction from Gaza)
JERUSALEM, March 26 (Reuters) - Israel says far more armed fighters and far fewer Palestinian civilians were killed during its 22-day offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in January than reported in widely-used Palestinian figures.
In the first Israeli death tally to appear in an official publication since the Dec 27-Jan 18 war, it said a total of 1,166 Palestinians were killed, not 1,417 as reported by Palestinian human rights activists.
The figures were contained in a briefing paper issued by the public affairs department of the Israeli embassy in London on Wednesday (
). They were later confirmed in a press release by the Israeli army.
The tally says 295 civilians lost their lives -- about a third of the figure of 926 reported by Gaza's Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (www.pchrgaza.org), which published a full list of names earlier this month.
The army statement, citing data gathered by its research department, said its count was based on "the names of Palestinians killed". It said at least 709 of the dead in Gaza were armed militants, not 236 as reported by the Palestinians.
The Palestinian group said "255 police and 236 fighters" died in Israeli bombing and shelling -- a total of 491.
Israel has made clear it regards police under the control of the Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza as the equivalent of armed fighters.
The Israeli embassy paper said the "degree of involvement" in the armed conflict of a further 162 killed in its offensive was "still under investigation". The army statement said they are "162 names of men that have not yet been yet attributed to any organisation".
It did not say how the list of names was obtained.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights on Thursday reaffirmed its own figures, saying "extensive investigation and cross-checking .. determined that a total of 1,417 Palestinians died in the offensive" of whom 926 were civilians, including 313 children and 116 women.
The group's Hamdi Shaqoura told Reuters the centre took a long time and employed great efforts to research the numbers and identities of Palestinians killed.
"We have the numbers and the names of the victims. The process was very well and carefully researched and our numbers reflected the truth," he said.
"International law regards policemen who are not engaged in fighting as non-combatants or civilians," he added.
An Israeli security source said the army's research made clear "about a quarter" of those killed were uninvolved in the fighting "and that's relatively low on any scale" for conflict in an urban environment.
The source suggested that the Palestinian count may have included death by natural causes during the period, which he said statistically would account for approximately 400 deaths.
Shaqoura said Palestinian researchers made sure not to include deaths caused by "internal events" or natural deaths.
He added: "When speaking about Israeli people, Israel regards all people under 18 years of age as children. But when speaking about the Palestinians Israel lowers the age to 16, in order to provide a cover for its army."
The central aim of the Israel embassy briefing paper was to reject charges of war crimes by Israeli forces in Gaza from human rights groups.
Human Rights Watch said this week Israel's use of white phosphorus shells over densely populated Gaza areas was evidence of war crimes, and United Nations investigators said Israel had targeted civilians. Israel rejected both charges.
The embassy paper said there was so far no adequate ethical code of war "to regulate the war on terror" in which "amoral" adversaries flouted the rules of war and used human shields with total indifference to human suffering.
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