A United Nations investigation into Israel's war on Gaza has found evidence that both sides committed war crimes during the three-week conflict.
Judge Richard Goldstone, who led the inquiry, said he found evidence that Israel targeted civilians and used excessive force in the assault, which started on December 27, 2008, and killed more than 1,400 Palestinians.
His report also suggested that Palestinian rocket fire into Israel may constitute a crime against humanity.
The report, which comes at the end of a six-month inquiry and will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council later this month, said Israel had violated international humanitarian law and used disproportionate force.
The report said Israel deliberately attacked civilians, failed to take precautions to minimise loss of civilian life and cited strong evidence that Israeli forces committed "grave breaches" of the Geneva Convention.
Judge Goldstone, a former South African judge, 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."
The investigators recommended that the UN Security Council should call on Israel and the Palestinian authorities to launch their own credible investigations into the conflict within three months.
If either side failed to do that, the council should refer the matter to the International Criminal Court prosecutor in The Hague within six months, the report said.
The report "concludes there is also evidence that Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity," by firing rockets into southern Israel.
"The rocket and mortar attacks have caused terror in the affected communities of southern Israel, causing loss of life and physical and mental injury to civilians, as well as damage to buildings and property," it said.
But only four paragraphs of a seven-page summary of the report were devoted to Palestinian violations, and Goldstone's team was more sharply critical of Israel.
|Goldstone urged both sides to launch investigations into the conflict [Reuters]
The report said there were "numerous instances of deliberate attacks on civilians" and civilian objects in Gaza.
The firing of white phosphorous shells and the use of high explosive artillery shells were listed as "violations of humanitarian law".
Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from Gaza, said: "The theme that runs through this new UN report is the idea of excessive force being used [by Israel] and deliberate targeting of civilians.
"There was nothing to warn civilians that there were incoming rockets.
"The Israelis say they provided leaflets and made thousands of calls to Gazan citizens, but after they called them and dropped leaflets, they didn't give them any option of where to go.
"Even the United Nations shelter was hit."
Our correspondent said Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza were studying what Goldstone had said and would comment on it in due course.
Israel immediately dismissed the report as one-sided, with Mark Regev, a government spokesman, describing the report as "inaccurate and flawed".
"Both the mandate of the mission and the resolution establishing it prejudged the outcome," the foreign ministry said.
Israel said its military had opened more than 100 inquiries into allegations of alleged wrongdoing by its forces, but had closed most of them because the accusations were found to be baseless.
Israel had refused to co-operate with the UN investigation, saying the UN Human Rights Council that ordered it was biased against Israel, something Goldstone and the three other members of the team deny.
Goldstone, the former chief prosecutor of the international courts for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, headed the fact-finding mission which conducted dozens of interviews and investigations.
About 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the war and about 5,500
people were wounded, the overwhelming majority of them in Gaza.