GAZA (Reuters) - Israel’s 22-day offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip killed 1,434 people, including 960 civilians, 239 police officers and 235 fighters, a Palestinian human rights group said Thursday.
Israel carried out attacks by air, land and sea from December 27 to January 18 in a bid, it said, to force Hamas and other militant Islamist groups to stop firing rockets and mortars at southern Israeli towns across their border.
“The Palestinian Center for Human Rights’ investigations reveal that throughout the course of the assault, Israeli Occupation Forces used excessive, indiscriminate force, in violation of the principle of distinction,” the group said in a report (www.pchrgaza.org).
The principle of distinction “obliges all parties to the conflict to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.”
An Israeli military spokesman said the army had “made every effort to minimize harm to the civilian population” during the fighting.
The army said it telephoned warnings in advance to urge residents to leave combat zones. The army statement rejected the charges it had set out to intentionally harm civilians calling the allegations “absurd and false.”
The group said it would publish a list of the identities of those killed next week and would post them on its website in Arabic, with an English version to follow.
It said the “disproportionately high rate of death amongst the civilian population, when compared to that of resistance fighters” was evidence that Israeli forces had not respected this principle.
The rights group said 288 children and 121 women were among civilians killed in the bombing and shelling.
“The Ministry of Health have also confirmed that a total of 5,303 Palestinians were injured in the assault, including 1,606 children and 828 women,” it said.
It called for an international investigation into “crimes committed by the Israeli forces and Israel’s conduct of hostilities” and “prosecution of all political and military officials” accused.
The Israeli military statement questioned why the rights group had not made references to Israeli charges that Hamas had used civilians as human shields.
During the offensive, 13 Israelis were killed, including 3 by rockets fired into Israel.
Israeli media have quoted officers as saying there was far less resistance from Islamist gunmen than they had expected. A Palestinian opinion poll this week showed Hamas had gained significantly in popularity since the war.
Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Matthew Jones