Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz will decide soon whether to promote Col. Ilan Malka, former commander of the Givati Brigade, who was exonerated on Tuesday regarding criminal allegations, in the closure of the last investigation into Operation Cast Lead.

Malka commanded the Givati infantry brigade during the Cast Lead offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which was launched on December 27, 2008.

The investigation against Malka focused on the bombing on January 5, 2009 – during the ground offensive stage of the three-week operation – of a home in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood that killed 21 members of the Samouni family.

The case was highlighted in the UN’s Goldstone Report – which investigated alleged Israeli war crimes during the operation – and Maj.-Gen. (res.) Avichai Mandelblit decided to launch a Military Police investigation almost two years ago to rule out the possibility that Malka ordered the strike while knowing civilians were inside.

Due to the investigation, Malka’s promotion was put on hold and he has served as chief operations officer for the Central Command since.

Military Advocate-General Brig.-Gen. Dani Efroni announced his decision to close the case in a letter sent to B’Tselem – The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories – in which he rejected claims that Malka intentionally targeted civilians or caused death through negligence.

Gantz is expected to decide on Malka’s fate in the coming weeks and to announce his decision as part of a larger round of appointments.

Malka might not be able to immediately serve in a field position but will likely need to first serve in a staff post and at a later date be appointed commander of a division.

Attorney Yael Stein, who heads B’Tselem’s research department, said that closing the case was “unacceptable.”

“The way the army has exempted itself of responsibility for this event, even if only to acknowledge its severity and clarify its circumstances, is intolerable.

“Shirking the responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of other civilians and the immense damage caused by operation Cast Lead demonstrates yet again the need for an Israeli investigation mechanism that is external to the army,” she said.

According to B’Tselem, at the start of January 2009, the IDF cleared out the Zeitoun neighborhood, mostly populated by members of the Samouni family.

The soldiers asked the families – some 100 people – to leave their homes and gather in one house.

At 6:30 a.m. on January 5, one person was killed and two others were wounded by an Israeli shell when they tried to leave the house. Another projectile then hit the house. The structure collapsed, killing 21 people, including nine children, according to B’Tselem.

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