Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday denied claims made by a United Nations panel of inquiry that Israel Defense Forces troops fired intentionally at UN facilities in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead.
A team of UN rights investigators looking into Israel's invasion of Gaza in late December, led by former UN war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone, is meeting all week in Geneva ahead of a planned trip to the region, officials said.
According to a Palestinian rights group, 1,417 Palestinians, including 926 civilians, were killed in the fighting in the Hamas-run coastal strip. Israel disputes those figures.
Barak has asked that United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon be given a copy of the internal IDF investigation into Cast Lead, according to the Defense Ministry. The army's investigation included assessments of incidents in which IDF troops or aircraft fired on UN facilities in the Gaza Strip.
The internal investigation proves irrefutably that the IDF did not intentionally fire at those facilities, the Defense Ministry said.
"We have the most moral army in the world. IDF commanders and soldiers did all they could to avoid harming innocents. We placed humanitarian sites and buildings housing international organizations on our maps in order to make sure they were out of range," the ministry said in a statement.
"Nonetheless, the Hamas terror organization did not feel any mercy for their own people. Instead of defending them, they exploited them, instead of protecting, they attacked. We did not fight against the people of Gaza, we fought against Hamas, a cruel terrorist organization. If they had not used neutral bodies as human shields, it would have been possible to prevent a great deal of the harm caused to civilians."
In the message, Barak again blamed Hamas for the Gaza operation, saying "after eight years of intense, armed attacks targeted at civilians with the intent of harming and killing children, women, and men, citizens of Israel, we said "enough".
"We are a people that values life and peace, but it is our duty to do all that we can in order to return quiet and normality to the citizens of Israel in our sovereign country.
Ban on Tuesday said that a damning UN report on Israel's conduct during the offensive was not legally binding.
Ban made the comments in a letter he agreed to attach to the report at the request of Foreign Ministry director-general Yossi Gal, who traveled to New York on Monday for meetings with Ban's aides on the matter.
Ban also commended the IDF for its close coordination with the world body during the 3-week operation, as well as the cooperation given by Israel with the report's authors.
He said his representatives were holding meetings with the Israeli government on implementing the report's recommendations. The UN chief added there would be no further reports by the world body on the subject.
In its official response, the Foreign Ministry said: "Both [in] spirit and language, the report is tendentious, patently biased, and ignores the facts presented to the committee."
"The committee has preferred the claims of Hamas, a murderous terror organization, and by doing so has misled the world."
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