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(photo credit: AP)
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday defended their actions during Israel's assault last winter, saying they did not target civilians while firing hundreds of rockets at Israeli towns, and rebuffing a UN call for a new inquiry.
A report handed by a Hamas official to The Associated Press days before a UN deadline indicated Hamas will not convene an independent investigation of its rocket fire.
Both Israel and Hamas rejected charges by the UN inquiry of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, and both appear ready to ignore the demand for internal investigations.
In the aftermath of the war, most criticism has been leveled at Israel, charging it with using disproportionate force and the destruction in Gaza. About 1,400 Gazans were killed, many of them civilians. The UN commission said Israel intentionally targeted civilians, an allegation Israel hotly denied.
The Hamas report will be submitted to the UN later this week, said the official, Mohammed al-Ghoul. Its argument is that rockets fired from Gaza were meant to hit military targets, but because they are unguided, they hit civilians by mistake.
Palestinian terrorists fired some 800 rockets and mortar shells into Israel during the war, killing three civilians, wounding about 80 and slightly injuring more than 800.
Hundreds of rockets pelted the border town of Sderot, where there are no military bases. They also hit cities as far away as Beersheba, about 40 kilometers from Gaza. Most Israelis in rocket range stayed in bomb shelters, avoiding further casualties.
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"Palestinian armed groups have repeatedly confirmed that they are abiding by international humanitarian law, through broadcasting in different media that they intended to hit military targets and to avoid targeting civilians," the Hamas report stated, citing casualties from "incorrect (or imprecise) fire."
The request for independent investigations was made by the UN General Assembly last November and it gave both sides until Feb. 5 to respond.
Cabinet Minister Yuli Edelstein said Israel also plans to ignore the demand for a full-fledged inquiry. The allegations of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity emerged from a UN commission headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone that investigated the three-week war.
Israel did not cooperate with the commission and rejected its findings as biased and unfounded, claiming its actions were in self-defense, trying to stop years of almost daily rocket salvos from Gaza, and that it did everything it could to limit civilian casualties.
By rejecting calls for an independent inquiry, both Hamas and Israel could open themselves up to international war crimes proceedings.
Also Wednesday, the IDF appointed a new chief rabbi to replace a cleric who sparked concern from some quarters that the military rabbinate was promoting ultranationalist religious ideology, also during the Gaza war.
The new rabbi, Lt. Col. Rafi Peretz, was among 8,000 Israeli settlers evacuated from Gaza when Israel withdrew in 2005. He opposed the pullout, as did many other Orthodox Jewish Israelis, but urged his followers to protest peacefully.
The military said Peretz would succeed Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki in a few months. Rontzki, who lives at a radical West Bank settlement, drew fire after army rabbis tried to impose religious ceremonies before soldiers entered Gaza in last winter's invasion.
In November, Rontzki told a group of religious students, "Cursed is the person who has mercy for his enemy during war."
While some rabbis have urged soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate Jewish settlers in accordance with government decisions, Peretz called that "an absolute disgrace." He told Israel Radio, "There will be no such thing as refusing orders under me."
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