Hamas: Gaza War Rockets Aimed at Israeli Soldiers, Not Civilians

Gaza-based Islamist group set up a panel of inquiry in response to the Goldstone report.

Gaza's Hamas rulers on Wednesday defended their actions during Israel's assault last winter, saying they did not target civilians while firing hundreds of rockets at Israeli towns, and rebuffing a UN call for a new inquiry.

A Gaza-based Hamas commission of inquiry also determined on Wednesday that captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit is being treated fairly and is receiving the necessary medical attention.

The panel was formed as Hamas' response to the Goldstone Report, which accused the Islamist group and the Israel Defense Forces of committing war crimes during last year's military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

A report handed by a Hamas official to The Associated Press days before a UN deadline indicated Hamas will not convene an independent investigation of its rocket fire.

Both Israel and Hamas rejected charges by the UN inquiry of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, and both appear ready to ignore the demand for internal investigations.

In the aftermath of the war, most criticism has been leveled at Israel, charging it with using disproportionate force and the destruction in Gaza. About 1,400 Gazans were killed, many of them civilians. The UN commission said Israel intentionally targeted civilians, an allegation Israel hotly denied.

The Hamas report will be submitted to the UN later this week, said the official, Mohammed al-Ghoul. Its argument is that rockets fired from Gaza were meant to hit military targets, but because they are unguided, they hit civilians by mistake.

Palestinian militants fired some 800 rockets and mortar shells into Israel during the war, killing three civilians, wounding about 80 and slightly injuring more than 800.

Hundreds of rockets pelted the border town of Sderot, where there are no military bases. They also hit cities as far away as Be'er Sheva, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Gaza. Most Israelis in rocket range stayed in bomb shelters, avoiding further casualties.

"Palestinian armed groups have repeatedly confirmed that they abide by international humanitarian law, through broadcasting in different media that they intended to hit military targets and to avoid targeting civilians," the Hamas report stated, citing casualties from "incorrect (or imprecise) fire."

The request for independent investigations was made by the UN General Assembly last November and it gave both sides until Feb. 5 to respond.

Israel also plans to ignore the demand for a full-fledged inquiry, according to Cabinet Minister Yuli Edelstein. The allegations of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity emerged from a UN commission headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone that investigated the three-week war.

Israel did not cooperate with the commission and rejected its findings as biased and unfounded, claiming its actions were in self-defense, trying to stop years of almost daily rocket salvos from Gaza, and that it did everything it could to limit civilian casualties.

By rejecting calls for an independent inquiry, both Hamas and Israel could open themselves up to international war crimes proceedings.

In another development, Defense Minister Ehud Barak discussed Mideast peace moves and other issues with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik on Wednesday, Barak's office said in a statement. No further details were released.