JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military on Wednesday cleared its forces of wrongdoing in three deadly incidents that took place during the 2014 Gaza war — including an airstrike that killed 15 members of a single family.
Israel's investigative process is at the heart of a Palestinian case to press for war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The Palestinians say that Israel has a poor record of prosecuting wrongdoing in its ranks. Wednesday's announcement was likely to add to those claims.
In a statement Wednesday, the military said it had closed a total of seven investigations without filing charges after a special team collected testimony from Gaza residents and Israeli officers.
The deadliest incident involved an airstrike in the southern Gaza town of Rafah on Aug. 1, 2014, that killed 15 members of the Zoroub family.
The army said the building was used by Hamas as a command and control center. While its statement suggested that the civilian casualties were higher than expected, it said the airstrike was in line with international law, which can allow attacks on homes used for military purposes. It said that among the dead was Nazmi Zoroub, whom it identified as a senior Hamas commander.
"The attack complied with the principle of proportionality, as at the time the decision to attack was taken it was considered that the collateral damage expected to arise as a result of the attack would not be excessive in relation to the military advantage anticipated from it," it said.
"This assessment was not unreasonable under the circumstances, despite the discovery, in the wake of the strike, of discrepancies between the reality prevailing on the ground and the information available at the time," it added.
Adel Zoroub, whose sister's home was destroyed, rejected the army's findings. He said Nazmi Zoroub was wounded in a different Israeli attack and was not in the building.
"The Zionists justify their massacres by saying they target militants," he said. "This is nonsense because all of Rafah knows that Nazmi was killed in a home far away."
The army also said it would not file charges in a July 21, 2014, incident that left 12 members of the Siyam family in Rafah dead. It said it could not find evidence to back claims that they were killed by an Israeli airstrike and that they had in fact been killed by mortar shells misfired by Palestinian militants.
The army also found no wrongdoing in an airstrike a day earlier that killed seven members of the Ziyadeh family in the Bureij refugee camp. It said the building had been used as a command and control center by Hamas and that several militants, including three members of the family and a top Hamas military leader, were among the dead.
The Ziyadeh family declined comment, and Siyam family members could not immediately be reached.
Israel launched the war in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire by Palestinian militants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. During 50 days of fighting, over 2,200 Palestinians were killed, and 73 people on the Israeli side were killed. More than 1,400 Palestinian civilians were among the dead, according to U.N. figures.
Israel says Hamas is responsible for the high civilian death toll, saying the group used the local population as human shields while firing rockets from residential areas.
A 2015 U.N. investigation found evidence of war crimes by both sides, saying Israel appeared to have used disproportionate force and endangered civilians. It also criticized Hamas for firing rockets indiscriminately toward civilian areas in Israel.
The International Criminal Court has opened a preliminary examination of Israeli conduct in the war, but issued no conclusions. The court can intervene in cases where a country is deemed incapable of conducting a proper investigation.
The military says it looked into some 360 complaints connected to the war. It has found enough evidence to launch some 31 criminal investigations. At least 13 of those probes have been closed, with indictments in just three cases of alleged looting by soldiers.
Associated Press writer Fares Akram in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.