JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Israeli forces killed 660 Palestinians in 2006, well over three times as many as the year before, an Israeli human rights group said on Friday.
B’Tselem, an independent body that monitors Israeli actions in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, said at least 322 of the dead Palestinians were not taking part in hostilities at the time they were killed.
It said Palestinians had killed 17 Israeli civilians in the West Bank and Israel during 2006 as well as six members of the security forces. It was the lowest toll of Israelis killed by Palestinians in a full year since an uprising broke out in the West Bank and Gaza in September 2000.
Responding to the report, the Israeli army said it had no intention of targeting civilians and that its only aim was to protect Israelis. “Unfortunately, Palestinian militants often use civilian compounds and buildings as a platform to carry out deadly attacks toward Israeli population centres,” it said in a statement. “Uninvolved Palestinians are being used by various armed groups as human shields for terrorist activities.”
Most of the Palestinians were killed during an offensive into Gaza, which was launched after militants captured a soldier in a cross-border raid and fired barrages of rockets from the territory that Israel had abandoned in 2005.
B’Tselem put the death toll in Gaza at 405 Palestinians and said that 205 people were not taking part in hostilities at the time they were killed.
Israeli troops withdrew from the Gaza Strip under a truce just over one month ago.
In addition to the fighting with Israel, Palestinian territories have been beset by unprecedented internal violence, much of it linked to a power struggle between Hamas Islamists and President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah.
Abbas has put the death toll at well over 300.