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War crimes the result of "mistakes": former Israeli official

Retired brigadier general admitted that Israel committed war crimes, though said it didn't do so intentionally.

A Palestinian man walks past a house, damaged during the three-week offensive Israel launched last December, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, Sept. 16, 2009. Both the Israeli army and Palestinian militants committed war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity, during the December-January Gaza war, the U.N. charged on Sept. 15. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

UNITED NATIONS — A retired Israeli brigadier general said Israeli troops committed what amounted to war crimes in Gaza during an offensive earlier this year, but disputed the conclusions of a controversial report by a U.N. commission that Israel deliberately planned to terrorize the Gazan people.

Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, former director of the Strategic Planning Division in the Israel Defense Forces' General Staff, said that some actions of the troops were "mistakes." Israel had committed even worse actions in earlier wars, he added, that went undetected because media and international scrutiny was not as intense as it is today.

“I believe there were some ... war crimes or violations of the laws of war made by Israeli forces in the war in Gaza,” Brom said in an interview on Wednesday in New York at the Israel Policy Forum, an independent U.S. group that promotes a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.

“War is an ugly event,” said Brom, who is currently a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. “When people are fighting in a situation of uncertainty and stress, they tend to make mistakes.”

Brom, a former Israeli deputy national security adviser, said such mistakes happen in every war and if you “look for this kind of violation, you will always find them.” In this case, he said there were “political elements in the U.N. and elsewhere that were looking for reasons to attack Israel.” The four-month U.N. probe led by South African judge Richard Goldstone concluded this week that: “Israeli operations were carefully planned in all their phases as a disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize the civilian population" — an assertion that Brom said is "simply untrue."

"When you say that our plan of war was to terrorize the civilian population, there was no such thing," Brom said. "The planning was to attack only military targets." Since Hamas operated from densely urban areas international law permitted hitting civilian targets that were being used for military purposes, he said.

According to the Goldstone report, both sides in the conflict — the Israeli Defense Forces and the forces of the Hamas government — committed what amount to war crimes.

“Unlawful and wanton destruction which is not justified by military necessity amounts to a war crime,” the report said.

Israeli forces damaged agricultural land with the destruction of a sewage treatment plant, hit the only flourmill still operating in Gaza City and its soldiers left behind “racist” graffiti in Gazan homes. As many as 1,400 Gazans were killed, the report said.

Gazan authorities were accused of firing rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians. Israel says it launched Operation Cast Lead to stop the rocket fire, which killed a handful of Israeli civilians.