IDF soldiers storm a target during the ground incursion into Gaza.
The IDF acted within the bounds of international law during its war with Hamas in Gaza last summer, a high-level group of former diplomats and military experts concluded after a fact-finding mission to Israel in May, according to the NGO UN Watch.
UN Watch said a full copy of the report had been submitted to the UN Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission into last summer’s conflict. The two-member UNHRC probe, headed by former New York Supreme Court justice Mary McGowan Davis, is expected to publish its own findings with the next 10 days, possibly as early Monday.
On Friday, Geneva-based UN Watch published sections from a report in support of Israel by the ad-hoc High Level International Military Group, whose 11 members include the former NATO Military Committee chairman Gen. Klaus Naumann of Germany; former Italian foreign minister Guilio Terzi; former US State Department ambassador at large for war crimes issues Pierre-Richard Prosper; and the former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp.
“During Operation Protective Edge last summer, in the air, on the ground and at sea, Israel not only met a reasonable international standard of observance of the laws of armed conflict, but in many cases significantly exceeded that standard,” the group concluded.
“We saw clear evidence of this from the upper to the lower levels of command. A measure of the seriousness with which Israel took its moral duties and its responsibilities under the laws of armed conflict is that, in some cases, Israel’s scrupulous adherence to the laws of war cost Israeli soldiers’ and civilians’ lives,” the group said.
The report by the High Level International group, however, is unlikely to change the conclusions of the UNHRC report, which is expected to charge Israel with war crimes and to become part of the Palestinian Authority’s submission later this month to the International Criminal Court on Israeli military activity against Hamas in Gaza last summer.
Israel refused to cooperate with the UNHRC probe, which it believes is the equivalent of a kangaroo court whose conclusions were known from the start, and has prepared an in-depth report of its own that it plans to publish to counter the impact of the UNHRC report.
Pro-Israeli groups also have published a number of reports of their own, including NGO Monitor and the Jerusalem Center for Public Policy, in support of Israel’s Gaza military action during Operation Protective Edge.
The High Level International Military Group charged in its report that Hamas had committed war crimes by “deliberately and indiscriminately targeting” Israeli population centers with its rockets.
Hamas’s construction of tunnels designed to attack civilian community was similar to a war crime, the group charged.
In addition, the group said, “Hamas launched attacks against Israel from the heart of its own civilian communities in Gaza and positioned its munitions and military forces there, also, including in schools, hospitals and mosques.
“Again, these actions clearly amount to war crimes. The laws of armed conflict not only forbid the use of human shields but also demand that combatant forces ensure their civilians are physically evacuated from combat areas.
Hamas made no effort to evacuate civilians; on the contrary, there are documented cases of them compelling civilians to remain in or return to places where they expected Israeli attacks to come,” the group said.
It also spoke of the steps the IDF took to limit civilian casualties.
“We agree with the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who, following the Pentagon’s fact-finding mission to Israel, went on record last November as saying that in the 2014 Gaza conflict, “Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties,’” the group said.
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