Serious questions have been raised by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem about the legality of Israel’s policy of targeting dozens of Palestinian homes during last summer’s war in Gaza – a strategy that led to hundreds of civilian deaths.

The report is the latest alleging serious breaches of international humanitarian law by Israel during the 50-day conflict. According to B’Tselem, the policy of striking residences led to the deaths of 606 people in 70 attacks on homes that it examined. Among the dead were 93 children under the age of five.

The claims come at a sensitive time for Israel following the announcement this month of an initial investigation by the international criminal court into whether war crimes were committed in Gaza.

Although a number of individual incidents are being investigated by the Israeli military attorney general, the specific policy of targeting residences is not under investigation, despite the high death toll. The issue could potentially be taken up by an ICC investigation.

The prosecution of the war is also being investigated by the UN Human Rights Council, by a commission of inquiry set up by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and by the Israeli state comptroller, Joseph Shapira, who has been tasked with investigating decisions made by Israeli political and military leaders.

The B’Tselem research follows hard on the heels of a report by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel this month that strongly criticised the Israeli military’s system for warning Gaza’s citizens of impending strikes during the conflict, also citing the lack of safe evacuation routes and strikes against rescue teams.

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