Hamas clears itself of UN war crimes charges
Says committee found no intention to harm civilians
The Islamist Hamas movement said Wednesday it has investigated allegations in a U.N. report into last winter's Gaza war and absolved Palestinian armed groups of any atrocities.
The U.N. Human Rights Council report authored by the respected former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone accused both Israel and Palestinian groups of war crimes during the devastating 22-day conflict.
Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the Israeli offensive aimed at halting rocket attacks from the territory ruled by the Islamist group.
But Hamas, which along with other armed groups has launched thousands of makeshift rockets into southern Israel in recent years, said a committee it appointed to follow up on the report found no intention to harm civilians.
"The committee worked around the clock to uncover the facts, despite the certainty that there were no violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law that amount to war crimes," said the committee head, Hamas justice minister Mohammed Faraj al-Ghul.
"The Palestinian government has on more than one occasion called on armed Palestinian groups to avoid targeting civilians," said the report by Hamas, which has claimed scores of deadly suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.
"(The armed groups) struck military targets and avoided civilian targets, and any accusations related to this concern errant fire."
The Goldstone report said the firing of the hard-to-aim rockets at southern Israel deliberately targeted civilians and could constitute a crime against humanity.
The Goldstone report recommended its findings be referred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague if Israel and Hamas failed to carry out credible, independent investigations.
The committee worked around the clock to uncover the facts, despite the certainty that there were no violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law that amount to war crimes
Hamas justice minister Mohammed Faraj al-Ghul
Israeli officials said on Sunday that Israel has prepared a rebuttal to the report, arguing the United Nations' findings were so unfair as to have fuelled a global wave of anti-Semitism.
Israel has brushed off its findings, calling them biased in favor of Gaza's Hamas rulers.
Cabinet minister Yuli Edelstein said Israel would make do with internal army probes of last year's war that resulted in a handful of courts-martial over minor offences, but would deliver a "formal response" to the Goldstone report on Thursday.
An Israeli diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the response to the Goldstone report aimed to disprove allegations that Israel wreaked deliberate damage on Gaza's impoverished and aid-dependant civilian infrastructure.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu similarly linked the Gaza war's fallout to anti-Semitism.
"The fight against anti-Semitism is more crucial than ever, as there is a significant increase in the manifestations of anti-Semitism since Operation Cast Lead," he told his cabinet, using Israel's codename for the Gaza offensive.
Goldstone is himself Jewish and has publicly identified as a Zionist. Israeli officials say they regard his ethnicity as irrelevant to the substance of the report.
The fight against anti-Semitism is more crucial than ever, as there is a significant increase in the manifestations of anti-Semitism since Operation Cast Lead
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu