'Deliberate use of force'

Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from Jerusalem, said many see the report as a pre-emptive strike to defend the much criticised war.

She said that the report follows testimonies from witnesses and human rights organisations about soldiers' conduct during the offensive.

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"What we've seen in the past few months since the end of the war are various human rights reports from Amnesty International, the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, as well as testimonies coming out from army soldiers themselves," Tadros said.

"What really ties all of these reports together is the idea that there was no proportionality and a deliberate use of force against the civilian population in Gaza."

Palestinian officials say 1,417 Palestinians, including 926 civilians, were killed during the 22-day assault which ended in January.

Israel says that the number killed was considerably lower, and that only 295 of the dead were civilians. Ten Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting, while three Israeli civilians were killed in rocket attacks.

The report details steps that the Israeli military says were taken to minimise civilian casualties in Gaza, while claiming that some such casualties were inevitable because Hamas fighters took up positions in crowded neighbourhoods.

It cited the 2.5 million leaflets dropped on the territory and 165,000 phone calls to civilians warning them to leave targeted areas as evidence of the military's efforts.

The report said international law is violated only "when there is an intention to target civilians," and Israel denied it had such an intention.

"Under international law, Israel had every right to use military force to defend its civilians," the report said.

Independent inquiry urged

John Ging, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, welcomed the Israeli report as an "acknowledgment that an investigation has to be done into what happened" during the conflict.

 Human rights groups have charged the Israeli army with violating international law during the war [AFP]
But he told Al Jazeera that the process has taken "far too long" and added that "what we actually need is an independent investigation that is credible for both sides".

"The litmus test is that [any investigation] has to be credible to both sides. As is well documented, both sides have certain concerns and they have to be addressed.

"We have to see the rule of international law applied and upheld, even-handedly, with the confidence of both populations."

The report also defended Israel's controversial use of the chemical agent white phophorus in the conflict, saying its use was in accordance with Israeli law.

The Israeli army "used munitions containing white phosphorus" in Gaza, the government report said, but denied firing such weapons inside populated areas.

International law permits the use of white phosphorus - which can cause severe burns - as an "obscurant" to cover troop movements and prevent enemies from using certain guided weapons.