Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City, Wednesday, July 30

Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City

A United Nations report into the 2014 Gaza war has found that Israel and the Palestinians may have committed war crimes.

The much-awaited inquiry was released on Monday. The commission says it gathered “substantial information pointing to serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law” by both sides.

Israel launched its offensive last July 8 in response to heavy rocket fire from Hamas and other militant groups.

More than 2,200 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed during the fighting, according to UN and Palestinian officials, while 73 people died on the Israeli side.

Israel, which has long had a contentious relationship with the United Nations, pre-emptively slammed the report as biased.

A similar report following a 2008-2009 Gaza war was harshly critical of Israel and Hamas.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it was studying the full UN report, but noted: “It is well known that the entire process that led to the production of this report was politically motivated and morally flawed from the outset.”

It said the United Nations Human Rights Council “has a singular obsession with Israel, passing more country specific resolutions against Israel than against Syria, Iran and North Korea combined – in fact, more than against all other countries combined”.

A report by the council into the 2008-2009 war, conducted by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, found evidence that Israel and Hamas both committed war crimes, though Mr Goldstone later backed off his key allegations against Israel.

Israel has attacked the council’s latest investigation since it was ordered last July.

Israeli claims of bias forced the head of the investigation, Canadian law professor William Schabas, to resign earlier this year after it was discovered he had provided legal advice to the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

The commission, which presented its findings in Geneva, said the 2014 hostilities saw a huge increase in firepower, with more than 6,000 airstrikes by Israel and approximately 50,000 tank and artillery shells fired.

Palestinian armed groups fired 4,881 rockets and 1,753 mortars toward Israel during the 50-day war, it said.

Palestinians have said that the Israeli army violated the rules of war, which include giving adequate warning to civilians, using proportionate force and distinguishing between civilians and combatants. They have pointed to the high civilian casualty count as evidence.

Israel claims that Hamas is responsible for the civilian casualties because it used Gaza’s residents as “human shields” by firing rockets from residential areas and operating in schools, hospitals and mosques. It also notes that Hamas’ rockets and mortar shells were aimed at Israeli population centres.

Israel has argued that it took unprecedented measures to avoid civilian casualties, ordering residents to evacuate through leaflets, phone calls, radio broadcasts and warning strikes with unarmed shells ahead of live airstrikes.

In advance of the UN report, Israel released a report compiled by a group of retired Western military officers who found that Israel met or “significantly exceeded” the international laws of war.

The report was sponsored by the “Friends of Israel Initiative,” a pro-Israel group of retired politicians and diplomats from around the world.

In its conclusions, the UN commission said Israel “released insufficient information regarding the specific military objectives of its attacks”.

It says it recognises the dilemma Israel faces in releasing information that would disclose in detail the targets of military strikes.

“Be that as it may, security considerations do not relieve the authorities of their obligations under international law. The onus remains on Israel to provide sufficient details on its targeting decisions to allow an independent assessment of the legality of the attacks,” it wrote.