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Human rights group: Palestinian civilians comprised majority of casualties in Gaza conflict

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(JTA) — A majority of Palestinian fatalities in the fighting between Israel and Hamas last November were civilians, according to a report by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

B’Tselem on Thursday said 87 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israel during the two-week Operation Pillar of Defense. In addition, 62 Palestinian casualties were combatants; the role of 11 others could not be determined.

Some 80 percent of civilian deaths occurred during the last four days of the conflict.

During the operation, the report said, Hamas executed seven Palestinian men for allegedly collaborating with Israel. One Palestinian woman died from a stray rocket fired by Palestinian militants and five others were killed under similar circumstances, though the cause of their deaths could not be confirmed.

Four Israeli civilians were killed by rockets or shells fired from the Gaza Strip during the conflict, the report said.

B’Tselem said its figures were based on months of field research and cross-checking data.

The report “raises suspicions that the [Israeli] military violated International Humanitarian Law,” B’Tselem said in a statement.

B’Tselem noted that Israeli officials said civilians were harmed during and after the operation because Palestinian terror groups fired at Israel from civilian areas, and that fewer civilians were killed than in the monthlong 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead.

Responding to the report, the Israel Defense Forces said the army had opened its own investigation into the civilian deaths. B’Tselem called on Israel’s military to “make the investigative process transparent, provide the rationale for each decision to close an investigation, and enable external and independent criticism of these decisions.”

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