Two weeks after fighting stopped between Israeli and Palestinian forces in and around the Gaza Strip, Hamas has admitted that it made “mistakes” and did use residential areas and schools as cover for rocket attacks against Israel.
"Gaza, from Beit Hanoun in the north to Rafah in the south, is one uninterrupted urban chain that Israel has turned into a war zone," said Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official in Gaza.
"The Israelis kept saying rockets were fired from schools or hospitals when in fact they were fired 200 or 300 meters away. Still, there were some mistakes made and they were quickly dealt with," Hamad told The Associated Press.
Prior to Hamad’s statements, Hamas had denied claims that they used civilian-occupied areas as cover for military operations.
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The fighting in Gaza began July 8. Israeli airstrikes during the fighting killed an estimated 2,200 Palestinians. More than 500 of those killed were children. Palestinian officials claim about 11,000 people were wounded.
Seventy-two Israelis were reportedly killed by Palestinian rocket attacks.
Palestinian officials claimed throughout the conflict that Israel was targeting civilians, while Israel claimed that its forces were simply striking back at sites from which rockets were being launched.
The argument over so-called human-shield tactics was underscored in July when the United Nations Relief and Works Agency reported it discovered Hamas rockets stored in a vacant school, adjacent to a building where the agency was caring for people displaced by the violence.
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The Israel Defense Forces accused Hamas then of converting a civilian neighborhood into a “fortress for its weapons,” according to Fox News. Israel subsequently released a video of Hamas rocket launchers set up near an agricultural school in Beit Hanoun.
“I don't think there's any doubt urban areas were used to launch rockets from in the Gaza Strip,” said Bill Van Esveld of Human Rights Watch. “What needs to be determined is how close to a populated building or a civilian area were those rocket launches.”
But the high civilian death toll on the Palestinian side has led to harsh condemnation of Israeli tactics during the conflict.
Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said Israel had no choice in targeting the areas it did and that Hamas wasn’t so penned in that it had to launch rockets from areas so close to schools and hospitals.
“Hamas' excuses are outrageous, misleading and contrary to the evidence supplied by the (Israeli Defense Forces) and the reality documented by international journalists on the ground in Gaza,” he said.
The U.N. Human Rights Council has appointed a commission to look into accusations made by both sides. In the end, Israel and Hamas could both be accused of violating the international laws of war.
The commission’s final report is expected sometime in March.