Israel committed war crimes and carried out reckless attacks and acts of wanton destruction in its Gaza offensive, an independent human rights report says.
Hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed using high-precision weapons, while others were shot at close range, the group Amnesty International says.
Israel has attributed some civilian deaths to “professional mistakes”, but has dismissed wider criticism that its attacks were indiscriminate and disproportionate.
Amnesty says some 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the 22-day Israeli offensive between 27 December 2008 and 17 January 2009, which agrees broadly with Palestinian figures.
More than 900 of these were civilians, including 300 children and 115 women, it says.
In March, Israel’s military said the overall Palestinian death toll was 1,166, of whom 295 were “uninvolved” civilians.
The 117-page report by Amnesty International says many of the hundreds of civilian deaths in the conflict “cannot simply be dismissed as ‘collateral damage’ incidental to otherwise lawful attacks – or as mistakes”.
It says “disturbing questions” remain unanswered as to why children playing on roofs and medical staff attending the wounded were killed by “highly accurate missiles” whose operators had detailed views of their targets.
Lives were lost because Israeli forces “frequently obstructed access to medical care,” the report says. It also reiterates previous condemnations of the use of “imprecise” weapons such as white phosphorous and artillery shells.
The destruction of homes, businesses and public buildings was in many cases “wanton and deliberate” and “could not be justified on the grounds of military necessity”, the report adds.
The document also gives details of several cases where it says people – including women and children posing no threat to troops – were shot at close range as they were fleeing their homes in search of shelter.
The Amnesty report says no evidence was found that Palestinian militants had forced civilians to stay in buildings being used for military purposes, contradicting Israeli claims that Hamas repeatedly used “human shields”.
In the cases it had investigated, Amnesty said civilian deaths “could not be explained as resulting from the presence of fighters shielding among civilians, as the Israeli army generally contends”.
However, Amnesty does accuse Israel of using civilians, including children, as human shields in Gaza, forcing them to remain in houses which its troops were using as military positions, and to inspect sites suspected of being booby trapped.