Jerusalem: An Israeli rights group Wednesday criticised the government for what it called a deliberate policy of launching air strikes on homes that killed hundreds of civilians during last year`s Gaza war.
In a report examining 70 raids on residential buildings in the besieged Palestinian territory, B`Tselem said Israeli officials were responsible for civilian casualties during the 50-day conflict that killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians.
"A hallmark of the fighting in Gaza this summer was the numerous strikes on residential buildings, destroying them while their occupants were still inside," the 49-page report said.
"This aspect of the fighting was particularly appalling" and was "the result of a policy formulated by government officials and the senior military command."
In the cases B`Tselem investigated, 606 people were killed, 70 percent of whom were under 18 or over 60.
The UN says the conflict`s Palestinian death toll was almost 70 percent civilian.
The July-August conflict also killed 67 soldiers and six civilians on the Israeli side.
B`Tselem said Tuesday that it had not yet received a response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s office regarding the report.
The group questioned Israel`s claims that it went out of its way during the conflict to respect international humanitarian law.
"You cannot say that the army didn`t know or couldn`t know how many civilians would get killed during those attacks," B`Tselem`s head of research Yael Stein said.
"You can`t maybe (know) on the first day or the second day. But on the 10th day or the 20th day, when you see how many civilians are getting killed... these attacks shouldn`t have happened," she said.
B`Tselem demanded explanations for possible Israeli violations of international law -- specifically in deciding whether a home constituted a legitimate military target, and whether its destruction gave a distinct military advantage outweighing collateral damage.
"They take international law and stretch it as far as they can, way beyond the acceptable interpretation by international lawyers," Stein said.
The report also criticised what it said were attempts to shirk responsibility for civilian deaths by blaming Gaza`s Islamist rulers Hamas.
"It is true that Hamas and other organisations operating in the Gaza Strip do not abide by international humanitarian law," it said, referring to Hamas firing rockets at Israeli cities from densely populated civilian areas inside Gaza.
But Netanyahu`s insistence that Hamas was to blame for all civilian deaths in Gaza was an attempt to place "no restrictions whatsoever on Israeli action... no matter how horrifying the consequences," it said.
"This policy is unlawful through and through."