Israel's military opens eight new probes into its Gaza war conduct

Palestinian children play on a mattress near the ruins of houses which witnesses said were destroyed by Israeli shelling during the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, in the east of Gaza City December 1, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's military said it had opened eight new criminal investigations into its Gaza war operations, including cases involving the deaths of 30 Palestinians.

The internal inquiries could help Israel challenge the work of a U.N. Human Rights Council commission of inquiry into possible war crimes committed by its forces and Palestinian militants in the 50-day conflict in July and August. Israel has said it would not cooperate with the panel, accusing it of bias.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in the fighting, according to the Gaza health ministry. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed.

The military said late on Saturday it would investigate a July 20 air strike on the Abu Jama family home in the town of Khan Younis in which 27 Palestinians were killed. Human rights groups said the dead were civilians.

The new probes will also examine the deaths of two Palestinian ambulance drivers on July 25 in Israeli strikes and a July 29 incident in which, according to a rights group, a Palestinian carrying a white flag was killed.

Four other inquiries will look into looting allegations.

In September, the military opened five criminal investigations into its Gaza war operations, including attacks that killed four Palestinian children on a beach and 17 people at a U.N. school. About 85 incidents are under various stages of legal review by the military.

Israel has said Hamas bears ultimate responsibility for civilian casualties because the group's fighters operated in crowded neighborhoods.

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said the new Israeli investigations were aimed at circumventing the U.N. inquiry. He called for "independent probes to bring Israeli war criminals to justice".

Israel launched its Gaza offensive on July 8 with the declared aim of halting cross-border rocket salvoes by Hamas, an Islamist movement considered a terrorist organization by the West. The fighting was ended by an Egyptian-brokered truce.

Late on Saturday, the Israeli navy detained for questioning 12 Palestinian fishermen on five boats that strayed from an Israeli-designated fishing zone off Gaza, the military said. It was the largest such group taken into custody since the ceasefire went into effect.

Nezar Ayyash, head of the Gaza fishermen's union, denied the six-mile (10-km) maritime limit was breached. In past incidents, fishermen have been released shortly after being detained.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Potter)