Peres: We won't apologize for Gaza op

President blasts Hamas in heated exchange with Al-Jazeera reporter, but admits IDF made mistakes.

peres big head US 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
peres big head US 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
President Shimon Peres told reporters Wednesday that IDF forces did not intentionally aim at civilians or United Nations facilities during Operation Cast Lead, but acknowledged that Israel may have made "some mistakes." Speaking after a private meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Peres repeated the government's position that it would not accept "one word" of a report about attacks on UN facilities during the war that was released Tuesday. The report, commissioned by Ban in February, blamed Israel for failing to take adequate precautions to ensure that UN installations and civilians sheltering in them would be protected from shells or other fire intended for Hamas terrorists. "I admit we made some mistakes - I don't know any war without some mistakes," Peres said, noting that Israeli soldiers were killed by friendly fire during the offensive. "We would not like to kill a single civilian," he added. But he said Israel would not apologize, as the board of inquiry recommended, for causing civilian deaths and injuries while trying to rout Hamas. "We don't think we have to apologize because we have the right to defend the lives of our children and women," he said. He later added that the American army checked Israel's actions and found no violation of laws of war. A reporter for Al-Jazeera interrupted Peres, replying, "But the United Nations says you were wrong." "We never aimed at any civilians," Peres said during the heated exchange. "You want an answer? I know as good as you know," Peres went on, challenging the reporter to explain why Hamas continued to fire rockets into southern Israel. "Why did they fire? What for?" Peres said. He criticized the four-person board of inquiry for failing to account for Hamas actions that drew fire into civilian areas, saying that if Hamas "didn't shoot, there wouldn't be a single problem." Peres said he felt the tenor of the report threatened a "rift" between Israel and the UN, but said he had aired his concerns with Ban. "We had a problem, but it is settled," Peres said. Ban is scheduled to discuss the report Thursday with the Security Council. He said Tuesday his office would not back any additional inquiry into Israeli conduct during the Gaza war, though a separate committee will review questions of compensation Israel may owe the UN for millions of dollars in damage to facilities operated by the Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees and other UN agencies. Israel, which cooperated with the board of inquiry report, is party to that process. The government has so far said it would not cooperate with a separate probe initiated by the UN's Human Rights Council, a body widely viewed as biased against Israel. Peres added that he had raised additional concerns with Ban about the anti-Israel speech last month by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the UN's conference on racism in Geneva. "There is a limit to formalities," Peres warned. He added that Ban claimed not to know that Ahmadinejad would be speaking.