Israel admits solders were wrong to shell UN site

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The Independent Online

Israel has reprimanded two high-ranking officers over the firing of artillery shells at a UN compound during the Gaza war last year - the first admission of any high-level wrongdoing.

It announced the punishment in a document submitted to the United Nations in response to a UN report that accused Israel's military of committing war crimes, including using white phosphorus in the attack.

Israel is trying to stave off the report's central threat of launching war crimes proceedings if it does not carry out an independent investigation into the military's conduct during the fighting.

It remained unclear whether the relatively minor punishments given to the offices would answer international concerns that the military was not capable of investigating itself.

The artillery attack, which took place while more than 700 Palestinian civilians were taking refuge in the compound, set on fire a warehouse that services more than 1 million Gazans and destroyed thousands of pounds of food and other aid.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon was visiting the region at the time, and three people were wounded.

Israel has said militants opened fire on Israeli troops from the compound - which the UN disputes. The Israeli report said a brigadier general and a colonel "exceeded their authority in a manner that jeopardised the lives of others" by authorising the firing of artillery shells in the area.

The military did not name the reprimanded officers but Israeli media said they were Gaza division commander General Eyal Eisenberg and Colonel Ilan Malka, then-commander of the elite Givati brigade. Disciplinary action could compromise their chances for promotion.

Israel launched the war to end years of Palestinian rocket attacks on its southern communities. More than 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 900 civilians, were killed, along with 13 Israelis. Large areas of Gaza were devastated and remain desolate because an ongoing Israeli and Egyptian blockade has prevented rebuilding.

The UN report by veteran war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone accused Israel of using disproportionate force and deliberately targeting civilians. It also accused Hamas of firing rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians.

Both sides reject the charges. They have until Friday to respond, but have signalled they would not meet the central demand of allowing credible, independent probes. That could lead the way to formal war crimes proceedings, though Israel's ally, the United States, is expected to block any efforts to prosecute.