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Military police are investigating a high-ranking West Bank IDF commander on suspicion his troops used Palestinian civilians as human shields in violation of an Israeli Supreme Court order banning the practice, military officials said.
Brig. Gen. Yair Golan is the most senior officer to be questioned in a probe the army launched in March after AP Television News filmed soldiers forcing a young Palestinian man at gunpoint to lead them from house to house during an arrest sweep in the West Bank city of Nablus.
The military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said investigators want to determine how much Golan knew, and whether he explicitly authorized the practice. Golan is commander of the army's West Bank division.
The investigation has put Golan's chances of being promoted on hold, the officials said. Golan is believed to be a candidate to become Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's military secretary.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. But the case was reported in several Israeli newspapers Wednesday.
The army declined comment on Golan or the status of the probe. "The extremely thorough investigation is still in progress," said Capt. Noa Meir.
In a landmark 2005 decision, Israel's Supreme Court banned the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields in general, and specifically outlawed taking Palestinian civilians on searches. Before the decision, the army would often have Palestinian civilians knock on the doors of houses where militants were believed to be hiding and ask them to surrender.
The army said the practice - known as the "neighbor procedure" - prevented violence by encouraging militants to give themselves up. But in August 2002, a 19-year-old Palestinian student was killed in a gunfight that erupted after he was forced to knock on the door of a building where a Hamas fugitive was hiding.
Since the Supreme Court decision, Palestinians have accused the army of continuing the practice, but proof was elusive. Human rights groups say the use of civilians in military operations has dropped sharply since the Supreme Court ban, but has not disappeared.
Rare evidence that the practice may continue has been provided by the AP video, and a second video filmed by a peace activist showing two Palestinian youths standing in front of an army jeep, apparently to protect it from Palestinian stone-throwers. One junior commander has been suspended as a result of the second video.
Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman for the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, said the new reports that the investigation is targeting senior officers was an encouraging sign the army is taking the matter seriously. In the past, she said, complaints have been denied or dismissed as isolated occurrences.
"This is the proper way to be doing things," she said.
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