|Goldstone's report accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilians during the 22-day war [EPA]
The United Nations fact-finding mission on Israel's 22-day offensive on the Gaza Strip between December 2008 and January 2009 found evidence that Israeli forces committed serious war crimes and breaches of humanitarian law.
It also condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets from the Palestinian territory, which resulted in the deaths of Israeli civilians.
"We came to the conclusion, on the basis of the facts we found, that there was strong evidence to establish that numerous serious violations of international law, both humanitarian law and human rights law, were committed by Israel during the military operations in Gaza," Justice Richard Goldstone, the head of the UN investigation, said.
"The mission concluded that actions amounting to war crimes and possibly, in some respects, crimes against humanity, were committed by the Israel Defence Force (IDF)."
"There's no question that the firing of rockets and mortars [by armed groups from Gaza] was deliberate and calculated to cause loss of life and injury to civilians and damage to civilian structures. The mission found that these actions also amount to serious war crimes and also possibly crimes against humanity," he said.
"The mission finds that the conduct of the Israeli armed forces constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of wilful killings and wilfully causing great suffering to protected persons and as such give rise to individual criminal responsibility," the executive summary of the 575-page report said.
"It also finds that the direct targeting and arbitrary killing of Palestinian civilians is a violation of the right to life."
It went on to criticise the "deliberate and systematic policy on the part of the Israeli armed forces to target industrial sites and water installations," and the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields.
On the objectives and strategy of Israel's offensive, the investigation concluded that military planners deliberately followed a doctrine which involved "the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations".
On the firing of mortars and rockets from Gaza, Goldstone's report concluded that they were indiscriminate and deliberate attacks against a civilian population and "would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity".
It said that their apparent intention of spreading fear among Israeli civilians was a violation of international law.
The report recommended that the Security Council should require Israel to take steps to launch appropriate independent investigations into the alleged crimes committed, in conformity with international standards, and report back on these investigations within six months.
It further called on the Security Council to appoint a committee of experts to monitor the proceedings taken by the Israeli government.
If these did not take place, or were not independent and in conformity with international standards, the report called for the Security Council to refer the situation in Gaza to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
It also called on the Security Council to require the committee of experts to perform a similar role with regard to the relevant Palestinian authorities.
Goldstone said investigators examined 36 specific incidents that took place during the Israeli operation in Gaza, which he said did not relate to decisions taken in the heat of battle, but to deliberate policies that were adopted and decisions that were taken.
As an example, he described one such incident: a mortar attack on a mosque in Gaza during a religious service, which killed 15 members of the congregation and injured many others.
Justice Goldstone said that even if allegations that the mosque was used as sanctuary by Palestinian fighters and that weapons were stored there were true, there was still "no justification under international humanitarian law to mortar the mosque during a service".
He said that the mosque could have been attacked during the night, when it was not being used by civilians.
Source: United Nations