WASHINGTON (AFP) - Israeli soldiers should be given the Nobel Peace Prize for the "unimaginable restraint" they are showing in fighting Hamas, Israel's ambassador to the US has said, backing his country's right to self-defence.
Ambassador Ron Dermer made the comments at an event hosted by the Christians United for Israel group late Monday, according to a text of the speech posted on his Facebook page.
Comparing Hamas rocket fire on Israel to Germany's bombardment of London during World War II, Mr Dermer slammed those "shamelessly accusing Israel of genocide and (who) would put us in the dock for war crimes."
"The truth is that the Israeli Defence Forces should be given the Nobel Peace Prize... a Nobel Peace Prize for fighting with unimaginable restraint."
Addressing journalists early Tuesday at a separate event, Mr Dermer did not go quite as far, and admitted Israel was "not perfect, we make mistakes."
"A missile can hit the wrong place. We can have intelligence failures. But we don't target civilians," he insisted. Israel was making "remarkable" efforts, he added, to get civilians to clear an area that was about to be hit including by sending out leaflets, text messages and dummy bombs ahead of the real strike.
"Israel does not target a single Palestinian civilian... when a civilian is killed it's an operational failure... and a tragedy in and of itself".
The Palestinian death toll in the 15-day war is at 620, most of them civilians, with some 29 Israelis, all but two of them soldiers, also having been killed.
"I think Israel should earn the admiration of the international community for the restraint that it has shown in the face of these threats," Mr Dermer told a breakfast organised by the Christian Science Monitor. "Our soldiers are dying so that innocent Palestinians can live. That is what's happened."
He also denounced Human Rights Watch for acting as a "kangaroo court" for its criticism of the Israeli action. But State Department deputy spokesman Marie Harf reiterated that Washington does "have serious concerns about the growing number of Palestinian civilian deaths".
"While the Israelis have said they hold themselves to very high standards, and we certainly hold them to the same standards as well, I think probably they could take some greater steps, maybe, to do a little bit more" to protect civilians," she added.
Mr Dermer said many Palestinian civilians were being used as human shields by Hamas militants who were placing missile batteries in strategic places such as hospitals and schools, calling on the United Nations to denounce Hamas for such "war crimes".
"When a school, house, hospital, mosque is turned into a military command, or a weapons depot or a place where you can fire rockets, it becomes by the rules of war a legitimate target." He added that the Israeli ground offensive was triggered by Hamas's use of tunnels to try to sneak into the Jewish state, saying the Israeli army had destroyed about 20 tunnels so far.