Israel Says Hamas’ Rejection of Gaza Ceasefire Increased Death Toll by 90%

By Patrick Goodenough | June 15, 2015 | 4:20am EDT
Smoke from an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City on Sunday, July 27, 2014, during a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)

( – If Hamas had accepted an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire last summer, about 90 percent of the fatalities recorded during its war with Israel would have been avoided, according to an Israeli report released on Sunday.

On July 15 last year, eight days into the conflict, Israel accepted the ceasefire terms but Hamas baulked. The fight then continued for a further six weeks before Hamas on Aug. 26 agreed to a final ceasefire – with the same terms it had rejected earlier. During those six weeks the death toll in the Gaza Strip rose from below 200 to about 2,125.

Sixty-seven Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers and five civilians were killed during the 50-day conflict, along with a Thai national. Israel says the Israeli death toll would certainly have been higher if the Iron Dome defensive system had not intercepted 735 rockets fired from Gaza.

Israel’s report on the “factual and legal aspects” of the war accused Hamas of a deliberate tactic of using civilians as human shields. It called its own actions “legitimate,” and stated that IDF experts determined that at least 44 percent of the final Palestinian death toll were militants from Hamas or other terror factions.

The report also accuses Hamas of an orchestrated campaign to inflate the number of civilian deaths. It quotes from Hamas interior ministry guidelines published during the conflict: “Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from the Gaza Strip or Palestine, before we talk about his status in jihad or his military rank. Don’t forget to always add ‘innocent civilian’ or ‘innocent citizen’ in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.”

Israel’s foreign ministry released the report on the eve of a U.N. Human Rights Council session during which the Geneva-based body will consider a report on the Gaza conflict, expected to be strongly critical of Israel.

The HRC begins a three-week session on Monday, and the Gaza report is scheduled to be debated on June 29. The P.A. will likely use the report in its quest to bring Israel before the International Criminal Court (ICC), which the P.A. joined on April 1 as part of a broader diplomatic offensive against Israel.

Israel has long had a difficult relationship with the HRC, which dedicates one agenda item each session – of a total of 10 – to the “human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories.”  No other agenda item relates to a specific situation.

The HRC’s composition is also weighted in favor of regions generally hostile to Israel. Current membership includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan, Russia, China, Cuba and Venezuela.

There was no early official reaction to the Israeli report from Hamas, although a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority (P.A.), Ihab Bseiso, told the AFP news agency that that Palestinians would only accept the conclusions of an international inquiry, like the one due to be discussed in Geneva.

The 240-plus page report looks at events leading up to the conflict; Israel’s strategic decisions, rationale, and legal positions; examples of military and individual militant targets; data on the amount of humanitarian aid entering Gaza during the fighting; and information on the conflict’s effect on Israeli civilians with reach of the militants’ rockets.

‘Exploiting civilians’

Israel said that Hamas materials seized during the military operation showed that the group intentionally sought to draw the fighting into built-up civilian areas, “for tactical advantage and political gain.”

Its actions, the report charged, included disguising militants as civilians or as Israeli soldiers, converting homes into military command centers, using mosque minarets as sniping posts, using schools, hospitals, U.N. facilities, mosques, and civilian homes for arms caches and as rocket launch sites, booby trapping civilian structures, and hiding tunnel openings in and under civilian areas.

“This exploitation of civilian surroundings – which often constituted war crimes and crimes

against humanity – posed significant operational, legal and ethical challenges for the IDF.”

“The IDF is committed to conducting all its operations in accordance with international law and makes efforts, including beyond its legal obligations, to mitigate the risk of harm to civilians when doing so.”

The report said the risk to civilians was exacerbated by the intense, close-quarter combat and urban warfare; and by rockets and mortars launched by militants towards Israel but which fell short.

“[M]uch of what may have appeared to external parties to be indiscriminate harm to civilians or purely civilian objects was in fact legitimate attacks against military targets that merely appear civilian but were actually part of the military operations of these terrorist organizations,” it said. “Many allegedly ‘civilian’ casualties were in fact militants.”

The report conceded that some harm had occurred “as the result of unfortunate – yet lawful – incidental effects of legitimate military action in the vicinity of civilians and their surroundings, and as a result of the inescapable constraint of commanders not being infallible, intelligence not being perfect and technological systems sometimes failing.”

Last July 17 – two days after Hamas rejected the ceasefire that had been accepted by Israel – Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was already commenting on the deadly consequences of that stance.

“Had Hamas accepted the Egyptian initiative, at least 40 Palestinian souls would have been saved,” the MENA state news agency quoted him as telling newspaper editors in Cairo.

Shoukry also accused Turkey and Qatar of conspiring with Hamas to undermine the Egyptian initiative. Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Egyptian army had removed from power a year earlier. Turkey and Qatar are supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

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