Mandelblit to decide on indictments in Gaza probe

Of 150 IDF investigations opened, 36 referred for criminal investigation; 2 top officers disciplined.

February 1, 2010 04:10
2 minute read.
Mandelblit to decide on indictments in Gaza probe

mandelblit 88. (photo credit: )

Military Police investigations into allegations of crimes by IDF personnel during Operation Cast Lead have uncovered evidence that could lead to indictments against officers and soldiers, a top officer said on Sunday.

Military Advocate-General Maj.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit will make the final decision on whether charges will be brought against the soldiers.

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On Friday, Israel released a 46-page paper documenting the steps it had taken to investigate Operation Cast Lead operations while stressing that its military judicial system was independent and under civilian review.

The document revealed that disciplinary action had been taken against two top officers – Brig.-Gen. Eyal Eizenberg, commander of the Gaza Division, and Col. Ilan Malka, commander of the Givati Brigade during the operation – for permitting artillery fire near a UN compound in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood of southern Gaza City. According to the report, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant decided to sanction the officers after they “violated the rules of engagement prohibiting use of such artillery near populated areas.”

The incident occurred on January 15, 2009, in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood. During fighting with Hamas forces positioned alongside the northern wall of an UN Relief and Works Agency facility, the IDF fired artillery shells with white phosphorous-soaked wedges to cover the movement of Israeli forces. Some of the shells allegedly fell within the UNRWA compound, injuring three people and causing damage.

The IDF’s investigation found that Hamas units had fired at the IDF with various kinds of weaponry, including light weapons, anti-tank missiles, and sniper fire. Hamas anti-tank units, equipped with advanced anti-tank missiles, were also operating in the area. Despite these findings, Galant decided to sanction the officers for the artillery fire.

Evidence of possible wrongdoing by other soldiers was discovered in Military Police investigations opened following Operation Cast Lead last winter.

The officer would not reveal which allegations were backed up by evidence, but other sources said the possibility that soldiers deliberately killed innocent Palestinians had been ruled out. The remaining investigations will be completed in the coming weeks.

“There is no evidence to back up the claim that IDF soldiers intentionally shot civilians,” a top defense official said.

To date, the IDF has opened 150 investigations into Cast Lead, mostly following complaints from human rights organizations, private Palestinians and as a result of internal IDF probes.

Of the 150 incidents, 36 have been referred for criminal investigations in which some 100 Palestinian testimonies have been collected, in addition to another 500 from IDF soldiers and commanders.

One such case that has caused a stir in the army has been the interrogation by Military Police of a number of mid-level officers and soldiers from the Paratroopers Brigade after a complaint was filed by Palestinians who said they were abused during their detention during the offensive.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to report to the General Assembly on Friday regarding what actions Israel and Hamas have taken to investigate themselves. The Israeli report, titled “Gaza Operation Investigations: Update,” focused on the investigations, legal proceedings and lessons learned from the Gaza offensive.

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