2008 'deadliest' year for Palestinians: rights group

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GAZA CITY (AFP) — More than 1,000 Palestinians were killed in 2008 in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, making it the deadliest year since Israel was founded in 1948, a Palestinian rights group said on Saturday.

A total of 820 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza, while 40 were killed in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, an independent organisation based in Gaza.

At least half of them were civilians, including 108 children, the centre\'s director Raji Sourani said as he presented the rights watchdog\'s annual report to the media.

In addition, 143 Palestinians, among them 25 children and 13 women, were killed in inter-Palestinian violence last year, Sourani said.

\"2008 was the worst year and the deadliest for the Palestinians ... since 1948,\" the year the state of Israel was created, Sourani said.

The previous annual report posted on the human rights centre\'s website said that 394 Palestinians, including 253 civilians, were killed by Israeli forces in 2007.

And 161 Palestinians were killed in clashes in Gaza between the Islamist movement Hamas and Fatah loyalists of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in June 2007, culminating with Hamas seizing control of the coastal enclave.

The centre said last month that 1,417 Palestinians -- including 926 civilians -- were killed in Israel\'s December-January onslaught on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Palestinian emergency services have put the number of dead from Israel\'s Operation Cast Lead at 1,475, including 943 civilians.

But the Israeli army has contested the numbers involving civilian deaths and insisted that the vast majority of those killed in its Gaza offensive were \"terror operatives.\"

It said last month that of 1,166 names of Palestinians killed in the offensive, 709 were \"terror operatives\" from Hamas and other armed groups, while another 162 belonged to other non-identified groups.

\"Furthermore, it has come to our understanding that 295 uninvolved Palestinians were killed during the operation, 89 of them under the age of 16, and 49 of them women,\" the military said.

Thirteen Israelis, all but three of them soldiers, were killed during the offensive aimed at halting Palestinian rocket fire at southern Israel launched from Gaza.