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After Press Reports, Israel Finally Launches Probe of Soldier Abuses in Gaza

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

After Press Reports, Israel Finally Launches Probe of Soldier Abuses in Gaza

Article excerpt

Israel's military on Thursday ordered a criminal inquiry into its own soldiers' reports that some troops killed Palestinian civilians, including children, during the Gaza war by hastily opening fire, confident that relaxed rules of engagement would protect them.

Their accounts, published in a military institute's newsletter, echo Palestinian allegations and feed into human rights groups' contention that Israel violated the laws of war. Soldiers also reported the wanton destruction of civilian property.

The troops spoke at a get-together with students enrolled in a military preparatory course. The transcript of the session appeared this week in a newsletter the institute publishes, Israeli newspapers reported.

The head of the course, Danny Zamir, told the Haaretz daily he was "shocked" and relayed the reports to Israeli military chief Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi because he feared serious ethical lapses among troops.

The military said it was not aware of the reported incidents but that its top lawyer has ordered military police to investigate.

Speaking to Israel Radio, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel "has the most ethical army in the world" and reports of exceptions would be "checked carefully."

In one published account reported by Haaretz and the Maariv newspaper, an Israeli sniper killed a Palestinian woman and her two children after they misunderstood another soldier's order and turned the wrong way. The sniper was not told the civilians had been released from the house where they were confined and, in compliance with standing orders, opened fire when they approached him.

In another account given at the military institute, an elderly woman was shot dead while walking on a road, even though she was close enough for the soldiers to see whether she posed a threat, Maariv said. Haaretz said the woman was shot from 100 yards away.

"The climate in general, from what I understood from most of my men whom I talked to, was ... the lives of Palestinians, let's say, are far less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they're concerned, they can justify it that way," an infantry squad leader was quoted as saying.

Heavy civilian casualties and widespread destruction during the three-week war provoked international outcry against Israel, which halted its fire on Jan. 18. Palestinians say over half of the more than 1,300 Gazans killed were civilians. …

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