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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Israeli Army to Investigate Gaza Shootings

By ISABEL KERSHNER

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military said on Thursday that it would investigate accounts by Israeli soldiers published in the newspaper Haaretz describing the killing of Palestinian civilians under “permissive rules of engagement” during the recent 22-day military offensive in Gaza.

In one of the accounts, an infantry squad leader described an episode in which an army sharpshooter mistakenly shot a Palestinian mother and her two children.

“There was a house with a family inside,” the squad leader said. Like others quoted in the Haaretz report, he was not identified by name. “We put them in a room. Later we left the house and another platoon entered it, and a few days after that, there was an order to release the family.”

According to Haaretz, the soldier continued: “There was a sniper position on the roof. The platoon commander let the family go and told them to go to the right. One mother and her two children didn’t understand and went to the left, but they forgot to tell the sharpshooter on the roof they had let them go and it was O.K., and he should hold his fire and he... he did what he was supposed to, like he was following his orders.”

The soldier was quoted as saying: “The sharpshooter saw a woman and children approaching him, closer than the lines he was told no one should pass. He shot them straight away. In any case, what happened is that in the end he killed them.”

The article was based on statements made at a Feb. 13 meeting of graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin premilitary preparatory course at a college in northern Israel. Dozens of graduates of the course who took part in the discussion had fought in the Gaza campaign in January, the newspaper said. It added that a transcript of the discussion was published this week in a newsletter for the course’s graduates.

Another squad leader from the same brigade told of an episode in which the company commander ordered that an elderly Palestinian woman be shot and killed; she was walking on a road about 100 yards from a house the company had commandeered, the newspaper said.

The Israeli military said that the Criminal Investigation Division of the military police would investigate the assertions.

Some 1,300 Palestinians were killed during the Israeli offensive in Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas. The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights said that almost 900 were civilians and the rest combatants, but the Israeli military put the ratio of civilians killed at no more than a third.

The Haaretz article has caused a stir in Israel, where many people strongly supported the Gaza offensive, generally dismissing international criticism of the army’s conduct there and accepting repeated statements from the military that it was acting with great care to avoid harming Palestinian civilians. Haaretz said it would print more testimony by soldiers on Friday.

Israel said its Gaza campaign was primarily aimed at preventing indiscriminate rocket fire from the area against southern Israeli towns and cities. Ten Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians were also killed during the campaign.

Following the Haaretz report, the Israeli military said in a statement that Danny Zamir, the head of the Rabin preparatory program, had sent a letter to the office of the army Chief of the General Staff describing assertions made by soldiers at the February gathering.

The content of the meeting held at the center was presented to the military advocate general, Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit, on Thursday morning, the military said, adding that after a “thorough examination of the text, the advocate general directed the opening of an immediate investigation.”

Original: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/20/world/middleeast/20gaza.html?ei=5040&partner=MOREOVERNEWS&pagewanted=print

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