[JURIST] The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) [official website] said Thursday that it would conduct an internal investigation into reports that Israeli soldiers have committed war crimes against Palestinian civilians. The announcement follows soldiers' reports of civilian killings [Haaretz reports] and vandalism under liberal rules of engagement during a recent operation in the Gaza Strip. It also came on the same day that UN Special Rapportuer on human rights in the Palestinian territories Richard Falk [appointment release] issued a report [text, PDF] to the UN Human Rights Council [official website], in which Falk criticized Israel [Haaretz report] for failing to take adequate precautions to distinguish between civilians and combatants in their offensives in the region. Falk called for an independent investigation into the alleged crimes, which he said included the targeting of hospitals and mosques, the use of white phosphorus incendiary bombs in heavily populated areas, as well as Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights [advocacy website] has estimated [press release] that 1,417 have died in the conflict, of which 926 were civilians.
Earlier this week, a group of 16 human rights investigators and judges sent an open letter [text; JURIST report] to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile; JURIST news archive] and the UN Security Council calling for an investigation into the alleged crimes. Earlier this month, Iran announced that it would seek INTERPOL arrest warrants [JURIST report] for Israeli war crimes suspects. In January, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for an independent investigation [statement text; JURIST report] of possible war crimes and human rights violations in Gaza. International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is also attempting to gain jurisdiction over Israel [JURIST report] to investigate its actions in Gaza for alleged war crimes. Israel has already begun to consider defenses against possible war crimes charges, partly based on accusations [JURIST reports] that it used white phosphorus in a civilian area.