UNITED NATIONS -- A new UN report says Israel violated international humanitarian law and used disproportionate force during its assault on the Gaza Strip eight months ago.
A fact-finding mission has "concluded that actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly in some respects crimes against humanity" were committed by both Hamas and the Israeli Defense Forces.
The UN report cites evidence that Israeli forces deliberately attacked civilians, failed to take precautions to minimize loss of civilian life, and includes examples where it says Israeli forces committed "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions during a three-week-long operation last December and January.
Israel immediately dismissed the report as one-sided and said that the UN investigators ignored thousands of Hamas rocket attacks.
Palestinians and human rights groups say more than 1,400 Gazans were killed, but Israel puts the figure at 1,166.
Presenting the report at UN headquarters, Richard Goldstone, the South African judge who was the chief of the fact-finding mission, stressed that the conclusions of the report were unanimously adopted by all four members of the mission.
He also noted that Israel refused to cooperate in any way with the mission. "It was very disappointing that the government of Israel would not allow us into Israel at all," Goldstone said.
"So it wasn't only a question of noncooperation from government sources, but also we were prohibited from speaking to people on the ground. And by the same token we were not allowed to visit the West Bank."
'Strong Evidence' Of Violations
The report covers the period between June 16, 2008, and July 31, 2009, and is based on 188 individual interviews, more than 10,000 pages of documentation, 400 photographs, satellite images and video tapes, and 38 testimonies from people at public hearings.
Because of Israel's resistance, Goldstone said members of the mission had to interview Israeli witnesses outside of the country, in Geneva and in Amman.
"We came to the conclusion on the bases of the facts we found, that there was strong evidence to establish that numerous serious violations of international law, both humanitarian law and human rights law, were committed by Israel during the military operations in Gaza," he said.
"The mission concluded that actions amounting to war crimes and possibly in some respects crimes against humanity were committed by the Israel Defense Force."
Goldstone said the incidents investigated in Gaza related to the military operations were found to be calculated and deliberate:
"The 36 incidents that we investigated -- by and large and to the greatest extent possible -- do not relate to, as I said, second-guessing commanders or soldiers who were in the heat of battle," he said.
"What we are talking about is a much broader aspect of the deliberate policies that were adopted, and the military actions that were taken not in urgent situations."
The Israel Foreign Ministry said it will carefully study the conclusions of the report, but spokesman Yigal Palmor described it as a "huge blow" to governments trying to defend their citizens from terror.
Mirit Cohen, a spokesman for Israel's UN mission, did not respond to requests for comment.
Hamas Also Condemned
The UN's criticism was not restricted to the Israelis. Goldstone said that Palestinian Hamas deserves equal condemnation and faulted them for not examining their own actions.
"Turning to the Palestinian armed groups there's no question that the firing of rockets and mortars was deliberate and calculated [act] and caused a loss of life, and injury to civilians, and damage to civilian structures," Goldstone said.
"The mission found that those actions also amount to serious war crimes and also possibly crimes against humanity."
The report will be officially presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 29 and is expected to generate intense debate.