Israelis fired on girl 'having identified her as a 10-year-old', military tape shows

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Israeli soldiers continued firing at a Palestinian girl killed in Gaza last month well after she had been identified as a frightened child, a military communications tape has revealed.

Israeli soldiers continued firing at a Palestinian girl killed in Gaza last month well after she had been identified as a frightened child, a military communications tape has revealed.

The tape is likely to be crucial in the prosecution case against the men's company commander, who faces five charges arising from the killing of Iman al-Hams, 13, in the southern border town of Rafah on 6 October.

It shows that troops firing with light weapons and machine guns on a figure moving in a "no entry zone" close to an army outpost near the border with Egypt had swiftly discovered that she was a girl.

In the recorded exchanges someone in the operations room asks: "Are we talking about a girl under the age of 10?" The observation post, housed in a watchtower, replies: "It's a little girl. She's running defensively eastwards, a girl of about 10. She's behind the embankment, scared to death."

Not until four minutes later was it reported that the girl had been hit and had fallen. The observation post reports: "Receive, I think that one of the positions took her out." ... Operations room: "What, she fell?" Observation post: "She's not moving right now."

The tape records the commander as telling his men, after firing at the girl with an automatic weapon and declaring he has "confirmed" the killing: "Anyone who's mobile, moving in the zone, even if it's a three-year-old, needs to be killed."

The tape, broadcast on Israel's Channel Two TV, gives the most graphic account of the killing after which soldiers in the company, part of the Givati Brigade, complained that they had been "besmirched" by the company commander's insistence on "confirming the kill".

The army admitted shortly after the shooting near the Girit outpost that it had been a mistake. The girl was carrying a bag which the army said that the soldiers had thought contained explosives, but which was found to contain schoolbooks. Although the family is at a loss to explain why she had wandered into a dangerous prohibited zone, they say she was on her way to school at the time.

The soldiers said that the commander had fired two shots at the girl from close range as she lay on the ground before withdrawing, turning and "emptying his magazine" by firing some 10 bullets at her body.

This account is broadly confirmed by the terms of the indictment issued this week. Although the family's Israeli lawyer believes - and Palestinian witnesses said last month - that she was wounded but alive when the commander fired his first two shots, he has not been charged with manslaughter, apparently on the grounds that there is no evidence that the two bullets killed the girl.

After the report that she has been hit, the tape records the company commander as saying: "I and another soldier ... are going in a little nearer, forward, to confirm the kill ..." After a pause he adds: "Receive a situation report - we fired and killed her. She was wearing pants, jeans, an undershirt, a shirt. Also, she was wearing a keffiyah on her head. I also confirmed the kill. Over."

The charges include obstruction of justice because of a false explanation - which was accepted by senior commanders until soldiers came forward with their version of events to the newspaper Yedhiot Ahronot - that he came under fire from Palestinian gunmen 300 yards away as he approached the girl and shot at the ground to deter the fire.

Because "confirmation of the killing" is not dealt with under military regulations the commander - who has been named only as Captain R - has been charged with "illegal use of a weapon" and overstepping his authority to the extent of jeopardising human life. He has been remanded in custody.

The al-Hams family's lawyer, Leah Tsemel, said that she was angered by what she said was the relative lightness of the charges. "I believe that the commanders and the soldiers who fired should all have been charged with murder."

The family have declined an army request to exhume the body for a post-mortem examination, because of the pain it would cause relatives.

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