(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi on Monday cast doubt on the accuracy of soldiers' claims there had been intentional killing of civilians during Operation Cast Lead.
"I don't believe soldiers in the IDF harmed Palestinians in cold blood in Gaza," Ashkenazi said during a visit to the Meitav army base.
"I don't believe soldiers harmed civilians in cold blood. But we will wait for the Military Police report," he said.
It was his first public response to claims made last week by graduates of the Rabin Premilitary Academy, who said soldiers had opened fire on individuals known to be noncombatants, and evacuated a family to a no-entry zone, resulting in the killing of civilians.
Ashkenazi insisted that IDF soldiers and commanders acted morally and ethically during the conflict.
"I have known the IDF for many years. As someone who accompanied the preparations to Operation Cast Lead, briefed the commanders, was on the ground and knows the soldiers and commanders of the IDF well, I'm telling you that this is a moral and ethical army.
"If there were isolated incidents, we will deal with them, and apply the law if needed," he said.
Ashkenazi stressed that "Hamas, not by coincidence, chose to fight in built-up urban areas, and turned residential areas into war zones, schools to command posts and public installations into weapons caches."
Ashkenazi said the army was ordered into these areas because they were used to fire rockets into Israel. He described the battle zones as "complex environments which had civilians, and we took every step possible to minimize the harming of civilians.
"We distributed leaflets over Gaza and sent out warnings in all the Arab media to move away from the fighting zones. We called hundreds of thousands of homes [in Gaza], and employed the technique of warning shots."
On Sunday, Maariv reported that a division commander had launched a personal inquiry into the claims made by soldiers in his division of the deliberate killing of Palestinian civilians.
The commander concluded the accounts were inaccurate and were the results of a misreading of the situation that led to the spread of rumors.
The commander presented his findings to Gaza Division Commander Brig.-Gen. Eyal Izenberg, as well as to Southern Command commander Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant.
Regarding one incident mentioned in the division commander's report, which deals with a claim that a soldier shot a Palestinian woman and her children, a soldier is quoted as saying, "I saw the woman and her children and I fired a warning shot.
"The squad commander went up on the roof of a Palestinian home and shouted down to me, 'Why did you fire at them?' I explained that I did not fire at them, but fired a warning shot.'"
Officers in the division believe that soldiers who were staying on the bottom floor of the same home thought the soldier had shot the woman and children, leading to the false rumor of killings.