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HRW: Israel likely guilty of 'war crimes'

Hamas congratulated the organisation on not being bought by Israel's 'lies'
A Palestinian family prepares their belongings to leave a UN school in Gaza City to return to their home (AFP)

Israel is likely to have committed war crimes in Gaza, Human Rights Watch said Thursday, a day after the army announced five criminal investigations into incidents involving its forces.

The Gaza war between Israel and Hamas-led militants ended on 26 August after killing more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 people on the Israeli side, 67 of them soldiers.

In three cases it examined, the New York-based rights watchdog said it found that Israel caused "numerous civilian casualties in violation of the laws of war".

The incidents were the shellings of two UN schools in northern Gaza on 24 and 30 July 24, and a guided missile strike on another UN school in the southern city of Rafah on 3 August.

The attacks killed a total of 45 people including 17 children, HRW said.

"Two of the three attacks Human Rights Watch investigated . . . did not appear to target a military objective or were otherwise unlawfully indiscriminate. The third attack in Rafah was unlawfully disproportionate if not otherwise indiscriminate."

"Unlawful attacks carried out wilfully - that is, deliberately or recklessly - are war crimes," it said.

Israel’s “lies”

The report has served to "expose Israel's lies", according to a Thursday statement by Hamas.

"The HRW investigation exposed Israel's lies that the resistance was using schools as military sites," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

"The report reveals that international organizations have not fallen for Israel's deception," Abu Zuhri said.

A top Israeli army legal official said Wednesday the military was launching criminal investigations into five incidents, including the 24 July case, also investigated by HRW, in which Israeli shelling killed at least 15 people at a UN school in Beit Hanun in northern Gaza.

The army plans to look into several dozen other cases for potential criminal investigation, but it was not immediately clear whether the 30 July or 3 August incidents would be included in that investigation.

The official said the army had already dismissed seven incidents referred for review, including the death of eight members of a single family in an Israeli air strike on their home, and the killing of a man reports said was a media worker.

HRW, however, expressed concern over the planned Israeli criminal investigations.

"Israel has a long record of failing to undertake credible investigations into alleged war crimes," HRW said.

The UN and international rights groups have condemned Israel for numerous attacks, and Washington slammed the 24 July UN school attack, but refrained from placing the blame squarely on Israel.

The Palestinians have threatened Israel with action at the International Criminal Court over war crimes allegations, and Hamas has signed a proposal for Palestinians to join the body, potentially opening itself up to investigation.

On Thursday, however, it emerged that in the middle of the Gaza war, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas blocked the Palestinian's application at the ICC.

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