A UN report on Tuesday accused both Israel and the Palestinians of committing "war crimes" in the Gaza Strip, but was particularly critical of Israel's use of disproportionate force in the conflict.
The damning report found Israel violated international humanitarian law during its assault on the Gaza Strip eight months ago in response to rocket attacks on southern Israel by Gaza-based militants.
The four-member probe panel "concluded that actions amounting to war crimes and possibly in some respect crimes against humanity were committed by the Israel Defense Forces," the head of UN probe, former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone, told reporters.
Rocket firing by Palestinian armed groups that triggered the Israeli offensive also amounted to war crimes "and may amount to crimes against humanity," a seven-page summary said.
But only four paragraphs of the summary were devoted to Palestinian violations, and Goldstone, appointed in April to lead a broadened human rights probe into the Gaza violence, was more sharply critical of Israel.
"We came to the conclusion on the basis of the facts we found that there was strong evidence to establish that numerous serious violations of international law, both humanitarian law and human rights law were committed by Israel during the military operation in Gaza," he said.
Israel immediately dismissed the report, saying the mandate that established the fact-finding mission was "one-sided."
"Both the mandate of the mission and the resolution establishing it prejudged the outcome of any investigation," the foreign ministry said.
The findings and recommendations of the report are to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on September 29.
Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the fighting between December 28, 2008 and January 18. About 5,500 people were wounded, the overwhelming majority of them in Gaza, now under the control of Hamas Islamic militants.
Israeli forces deliberately attacked civilians, failed to take precautions to minimize loss of civilian life and cited strong evidence Israeli forces committed "grave breaches" of the Geneva Convention, the report noted.
The firing of white phosphorous shells and the use of high explosive artillery shells were listed as "violations of humanitarian law."
"There were numerous instances of deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects in violation of the fundamental international humanitarian law principle of distinction, resulting in deaths and serious injuries," the report noted.
There was "strong evidence that Israeli forces committed grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in Gaza, including willful killing, torture or inhumane treatment, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, or extensive destruction of property," it added.
"The Israeli operations were carefully planned in all their phases as a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population," the report said.
The Jewish state had failed "to investigate" or to prosecute violations of international humanitarian law and human rights laws, the Goldstone panel said.
The report said such attacks by Palestinian armed groups also "constitute a deliberate attack against the civilian population, which would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity."
But it said it found no evidence to back Israeli claims that Palestinian armed groups in Gaza "either directed civilians to areas where attacks were being launched or that they forced civilians to remain within the vicinity of the attacks."
The panel said it also found no evidence that members of Palestinian armed groups "engaged in combat in civilian dress."
The panel recommended the Human Rights Council ask UN chief Ban Ki-moon to bring the report to the attention of the Security Council, as Goldstone hinted the charges could be referred to the International Criminal Court.
The report also said the UN Security Council should require Israel "to take all appropriate steps, within a period of three months, to launch appropriate investigations that are independent and in conformity with international standards."
Israel has refused to cooperate with the Goldstone team or allow it onto its territory, arguing that its mandate is biased.