Israel bracing for legal trouble

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Demonstrators at the End the Siege of Gaza rally (Image: Toban Black, Flickr)

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The Israeli army says it’s conducting its own investigations, but in the meantime it's reportedly taking some precautions. Linda Gradstein reports on "The World."

Now that the heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas has ended, the propaganda war is on. It's still not clear how many of the more than 1200 killed in Gaza were civilians.

Israeli Prime Minister Ahud Olmert spokesman Mark Regev says Hamas bears responsibility for most of these deaths because it fired rockets from populated civilian areas: "The large number of innocent people caught up in the crossfire between us and Hamas, especially the large amount of children, is extremely saddening. It's clear, Hamas through their tactics, through their deliberate strategies, put Palestinian children in deliberate danger. They used Palestinian children as human shields."

But Israeli human rights groups are investigating several incidents in Gaza where they say Israel may have violated international law. Amnesty International says it has evidence that Israel used white phosphorus in Gaza City. White phosphorous can be used legally as a smokescreen, though not in populated areas. If it comes into contact with skin, it causes severe burns.

The Israeli army issued a statement this week saying it's looking into the issue. It emphasized the Israeli military only uses weapons as permitted by law.

Jessica Montell, who heads a human rights organization called B'Tselem, says her group is also investigating a series of cases, including one where Israel fired on a truck filled with oxygen canisters, killing eight Palestinians, three of them children.

Montell: "There is this rush to say everything is legitimate and kosher on the part of the Israeli forces; to say that any harm to civilians lays wholly on the Palestinian's shoulders, that because Palestinian fighters were endangering their own population that explains all of the civilian casualties. I think the picture is much more complicated."

Montell says B'Tselem is calling for an independent investigation into all of the circumstances surrounding the war, especially the question of proportionality: "They also need to look at what ... their air force was doing. Did they need to use that much force to achieve their objectives? What was the military advantage to be gained in firing at government buildings, at mosques, at hospitals?"

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