Israeli human rights group criticises cabinet over 'unlawful' bombing of residential buildings in Gaza during summer war

B'tselem said that more than 70 per cent of the fatalities in the air attacks were not involved in last summer's hostilities

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Israel’s leading human rights organisation has alleged that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet persisted in an “unlawful” policy of bombing residential buildings in Gaza in last summer’s war.

The accusation by B’tselem came days after the International Criminal Court announced it was opening a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

More than 600 Palestinians, roughly a quarter of the death toll during the war, were killed in the incidents investigated by the rights group. It said that more than 70 per cent of the fatalities in these air attacks were not involved in hostilities.

The Israel Defence Force did not respond to the B’tselem claims, but it has said in the past that it fully complied with International Humanitarian Law, that homes targeted were used for “command and control” by Hamas fighters and that the group launched rocket attacks against Israeli civilians from civilian sites in Gaza.

The main UN aid agency in Gaza says the failure of international donors to make good on pledges was forcing it to suspend cash aid to tens of thousands of people.

Robert Turner, Gaza director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said: “People are literally sleeping among the rubble. Children have died of hypothermia.”

In response to the claims from B'tselem, a spokesman for the Israel Defence Force (IDF) said: "The Israel Defence Force (IDF) does not attack residential buildings in Gaza but rather military targets that are often located within residential buildings. The IDF categorically rejects the assertion of a policy of deliberately attacking residential homes solely on the basis that they were residences belonging to members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad. The IDF is fully committed to international law obligations."