Soldiers indicted over civilian deaths during Gaza offensive

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The Independent Online

Israel will charge a soldier with manslaughter for the killing of two women during the Gaza War 18 months ago, a move that will renew scrutiny of Israel's military conduct during the conflict.

The Israeli Defence Forces said that it was launching disciplinary proceedings against soldiers and officers in four cases, the first time that it has charged its soldiers with anything other than minor offences committed during the 22-day conflict. Israel has launched disciplinary proceedings against a senior officer following claims from Majdi Abed Rabbo, a Gaza civilian, that he was used as a human shield. In an account first described in The Independent, he spoke of how he was forced by Israeli soldiers to relay messages back and forth between them and besieged Hamas commanders, exposing himself each time to mortal danger.

Israel drew international condemnation over Operation Cast Lead, a devastating military offensive that killed up to 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilian, and 13 Israelis.

In a lengthy statement, the IDF said that it had thrown out 150 other cases, some 30 of them raised in the Goldstone Report, a United Nations-backed examination of Israel's conduct during the war. These were dismissed because "according to the rules of warfare, no faults were found in the forces' actions," the IDF said in its statement. "In other cases, there was not enough evidence proving that legal measures needed to be taken."

The highly-critical Goldstone Report accused Israel of using disproportionate force in Gaza and of deliberately targeting civilians, findings that were immediately rejected by Israel.

Among the claims that Israel will investigate is the killing of two Palestinian woman, Majda Abu Hajaj and her mother, Rieyh, who were shot fleeing their home on army orders. Eyewitnesses said that members of the group were carrying white flags at the time. The soldier, who said that he had shot at the legs of the women to protect other troops, faces manslaughter charges.

The IDF responded to allegations that it used a human shield by saying that its forces were part of a "moral" army and "no evidence" was found of wrongdoing. It went on to suggest that Palestinians had "vested interests" in making such claims.

In a third case to be investigated, members of the extended al Samouni family had taken shelter in their home as gunfire and shelling erupted around them. After hours of fighting, the house was hit with rockets, bringing the building crashing down on the family inside, killing dozens.

Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman for the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, said that the army's actions were welcome, but did not go far enough to address the rules of engagement.

"The main questions about the Gaza War concern policy, and a military investigation can't handle this," she told The Associated Press. "There must be an external investigation that will deal with the whole chain of command and chiefly with the people at the top who approved the directives."

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