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US Military Chief Backs Israel on Gaza Tactics

FILE - U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey speaks to reporters in Washington, Sept. 26, 2014.

The top U.S. military chief says Israel went to "extraordinary lengths" to avoid civilian casualties in its bloody two-month conflict with Gaza this summer.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the highest ranking military officer in the United States, on Thursday called the deaths of roughly 1,500 Palestinian noncombatants "tragic." But he added that Israeli forces "did what they could" during the 50-day war, which began July 8 and ended with a cease-fire in August.

A report released this week by human rights group Amnesty International said Israel carried out an "unprecedented number of attacks on inhabited homes," causing an "appalling" scale of death and destruction."

Responding to a question from the audience at a forum held by the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York, Dempsey said, "I actually do think that Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties."

The United Nations estimates 1,523 Palestinian civilians, including 519 children, and six Israel civilians were killed in the Gaza conflict.

Amnesty's report cited both sides for committing serious human rights violations, but focuses on Israeli bombings of occupied buildings in Gaza. It says Israel did not take necessary precautions to ensure the attacks would not harm civilians.