Israeli study: Civilians majority of Gaza war dead

Israeli study: Civilians majority of Gaza war dead

Well over half of nearly 1,400 Palestinians killed in Israel's Gaza war were civilians, including 252 children younger than 16, a leading Israeli human rights groups said Wednesday, challenging Israel's claim that most of the dead were militants, Associated Press reported.

The B'Tselem group said the findings, compiled in months of research, including visits to families of victims, should compel the Israeli government to launch an independent investigation of its three-week offensive last winter against Gaza's Hamas rulers.

"The extremely heavy civilian casualties and the massive damage to civilian property require serious introspection on the part of Israeli society," B'Tselem wrote, adding that it considers the army's internal probe as insufficient.

The military has acknowledged "rare mishaps" during the offensive - launched to halt years of rocket fire from Gaza - but denied troops violated international humanitarian law.

Earlier this year, the Israeli military said that 1,166 Gazans were killed in the offensive, a toll that fell well below the more than 1,400 dead reported by two Palestinian human rights groups.

The army said that of those killed, 709 were militants from Hamas and other groups, and that 295 were noncombatants. The military has declined to provide evidence, and had no immediate comment on the B'Tselem report.

According to B'Tselem's count, 1,387 Palestinians were killed in the war, including 773 civilians and 330 combatants. The group said 248 Palestinian police officers killed while at their stations, most in surprise air strikes on the first day of the war, were placed in a separate category. In 36 cases, it was unclear if those killed took part in hostilities.

B'Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli said researchers focused on civilians, particularly children and minors. In all, 320 Gazans under 18, all of them noncombatants, were among the dead, B'Tselem said. In addition, 19 minors were counted as combatants.

Among the minors, 252 of the dead were under 16, and the group's researchers visited homes and collected photos, death certificates and other documents relating to all those deaths. The military has said it is aware of 89 dead children under 16.

B'Tselem noted that the military withheld details that would have enabled the group to cross-check information. The discrepancy between the army's figures and those of B'Tselem is "particularly blatant concerning minors," the group said.

Michaeli said B'Tselem could only dispatch two Gaza field workers since the military prevented outsiders, including Arabic-speaking researchers from Israel, from entering the territory.

In defining combatants, B'Tselem included militants who are generally involved in fighting, even if at the moment of attack they are not taking part in hostilities.

The Israeli military appears to have used a more sweeping definition. During the war, Israeli officials said anyone involved with Hamas should consider himself a target.

In addition to its report, B'Tselem has sent details of about 20 cases with alleged violations of the law to Israel's military prosecutor. Suspicions include firing on civilians or using them as human shields, B'Tselem said.

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