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Middle East

Soldier to face manslaughter charges over Gaza civilian killings


Latest update : 2010-07-06

The Israeli military will for the first time prosecute a soldier for killing civilians during the Operation Cast Lead assault on Gaza. Manslaughter charges will be brought against a sniper who allegedly shot two Palestinian women waving white flags.

AFP - Israel's military is for the first time to prosecute a soldier for killing civilians during the December 2008-January 2009 Gaza war, the army said on Tuesday, while dismissing dozens of other cases.

The army said it would press manslaughter charges against a sniper for allegedly shooting dead two Palestinian women who were waving white flags, in one of several disciplinary steps to be taken after an internal investigation.

"The Military Advocate General has decided to indict a number of officers and soldiers for their conduct during the operation," an army statement said.

Among those to be disciplined was a battalion commander accused of sending a Palestinian civilian into a house to persuade gunmen to leave, while a criminal investigation has also been ordered into the bombing of a housing complex.

The 22-day offensive, launched in an attempt to stop rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, left around 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

However, the army also said it was dismissing dozens of other incidents, many of which were raised in the UN Goldstone report on alleged war crimes by both Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers.

These were dismissed because "according to the rules of warfare, no faults were found in the forces' actions," the statement said. "In other cases, there was not enough evidence proving that legal measures needed to be taken."

In the case of the soldier charged with shooting the women, the army said it did not press more severe charges because of discrepancies between the testimony of the witnesses and that of the soldiers at the scene.

Israeli rights group B'Tselem said the incident occurred on January 4, 2009, when the Abu Hajaj family evacuated their home after it was hit by a tank shell.

"When they saw tanks about 150 metres (yards) from them, two of them waved the (white) flags, and the children in the group sat on the ground," B'Tselem said.

"Suddenly, and without warning, shots were fired at the residents, killing Majda Abu Hajaj on the spot. Her mother, Riyeh Abu Hajaj, was severely wounded by the gunfire," it said. She later died of her wounds.

The army said Palestinian witnesses and dozens of soldiers had been questioned during its investigation, but it had "found gaps between the testimonies given by the soldiers and those given by Palestinians."

"This fact made it impossible to make a criminal connection between the described incident according to Palestinian testimonies and to that described by the soldiers," it said.

Nevertheless, the Military Advocate General decided to charge the soldier with manslaughter "based on evidence that the soldier, who was serving as a designated marksman, deliberately targeted an individual walking with a group of people waving a white flag without being ordered or authorised to do so."

Israel faced widespread condemnation for the large number of civilians killed in the war.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said 1,417 Palestinians were killed in the operation, of whom 926 were civilians -- including 313 children and 116 women.

The Israeli military says 295 Palestinian civilians were killed during its Operation Cast Lead, of whom 89 were under 16 and 49 were women.

It says the high number of civilian casualties was unavoidable as Hamas fighters deployed in crowded civilian areas and used women and children as human shields.


Date created : 2010-07-06

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