80 per cent of those killed by Israeli forces killed during the last four days of the war waged on the Gaza Strip in November were uninvolved civilians, Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem said on Thursday.
"After several months of field research and crosschecking data, human rights organization B'Tselem published a report today (Thursday) which looks into the harm caused to civilians during Operation Pillar of Defence," the organisation said in the report.
The report, which provides statistics for the number of fatalities on both sides during the eight-day war, challenges common perceptions in the Israeli public and media that the operation was "surgical" and caused practically no fatalities among uninvolved Palestinian civilians.
B'Tselem said that 167 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military during the operation; only 62 of these were Palestinians who took part in the hostilities. The report also showed that "of the uninvolved Palestinian fatalities, 80 per cent were killed in the last four days of the operation."
The organisation provided a breakdown of the figures per day which reveals a significant difference between the numbers of uninvolved Palestinian civilians killed in the first and second parts of the operation.
"Whereas 48 Palestinians were killed in the first four days of the operation, 119 were killed during the last four days," the report said. "Moreover, during the last four days of the operation, 70 uninvolved Palestinian civilians were killed – more than four times as many as the 17 killed during the first four days."
B'Tselem's report raises suspicions that the military violated International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Breaches of two major aspects of IHL are of greatest concern: lack of effective advanced notice of an impending attack and an unacceptably broad definition of what constitutes a "legitimate target".
According to the report, Israeli officials have argued that part of the harm to civilians was justified by the conduct of armed Palestinian groups, which included firing at Israel from locations adjacent to civilian homes and concealing explosives in civilian homes.
"Although the conduct of Palestinian groups undeniably creates additional difficulties for the Israeli military, their violations of IHL cannot serve as justification for IHL violations by the Israeli military," the report said.