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Haaretz (Israel)

Rights Group: Most Gazans Killed in War Were Civilians

Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent, and AP

Palestinians mourn the death of a relative killed during Israeli strikes, at a local cemetery in Gaza City in January 2009. Israel's Gaza offensive killed 1,387 Palestinians, with more than half of them, including 320 minors, not having taken part in the fighting, an Israeli human rights group has said. (AFP/File/Mahmud Hams)

The vast majority of the Palestinians killed in Israel's operation in the Gaza Strip last winter were innocent civilians rather than combatants, according to a new report to be published by the B'Tselem organization Wednesday morning. This is the opposite of what the Israel Defense Forces has said.

According to B'Tselem, 1,387 Palestinians were killed during the three weeks of Operation Cast Lead, of whom 773 were noncombatants and only 330 were combatants.

The remaining 248 were Hamas policemen killed when Israel bombed Palestinian police facilities at the start of the operation. The IDF has argued that these policemen, as armed Hamas members, should be considered combatants. However, B'Tselem noted that they took no part in the actual fighting. In 36 cases, the organization was unable to determine whether the casualties were combatants or noncombatants.
Of the civilians killed, 320 were minors under the age of 18 and another 109 were women, the organization said.

The IDF, in contrast, claims that 1,166 Palestinians were killed during Cast Lead, of whom 709 were Hamas combatants and 295 were civilians. It said it was unable to determine the status of the remaining 162.

The IDF lists 89 children under age 16 and 49 women among the fatalities, whereas B'Tselem lists 252 children under 16 and 111 women over this age.

Unlike the IDF, however, B'Tselem listed each casualty by name, and said it had collected eyewitness testimony, death certificates or other evidence for each.

The organization's spokeswoman, Sarit Michaeli, told Haaretz that B'Tselem researchers had examined every possible source of information, from the findings of in-house IDF investigations to lists prepared by Palestinian human rights organizations. However, she said, they were unable to compare their fatality list to that of the IDF, because the army refused to give it to them.

She added that B'Tselem had identified 19 minors as combatants, but this did not come close to explaining the difference in the two sets of figures.

Nine Israelis were killed during Cast Lead as well. Four were killed by rocket fire on southern Israel, including three civilians and one soldier, while the other five were soldiers killed in combat.

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