IDF launches 'counter-Goldstone' probe

Army opens new Cast Lead

The Military Police has launched a new criminal investigation into allegations that soldiers committed war crimes during Operation Cast Lead, The Jerusalem Post learned Wednesday, amid efforts by the IDF to complete a report to counter the accusations leveled at it by the Goldstone Commission. According to B'tselem, Military Police investigators contacted the human rights organization and asked it to coordinate a meeting with several Palestinians at the Erez crossing to question them regarding the deaths of two Palestinian men who were killed in their car near Dir el-Balah on January 15. B'tselem has a field worker, Mohammed Sabah, based in the Gaza Strip, whose job is to track down Palestinians who want to file complaints against Israel and bring them to the Erez crossing to give testimony. Since the end of Cast Lead, B'tselem has coordinated the testimonies of close to 30 Palestinians for the IDF's Military Police. Earlier this week, the Post revealed that the Military Police was conducting 28 different criminal investigations launched by Military Advocate General Maj.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit after he had reviewed 140 complaints submitted by human rights organizations and Palestinian civilians. The new investigation will examine the tank fire that is suspected of killing Mohammed Barakeh, 45, and Rasmin Abu Jarir, 36, who were traveling in their car to Rafah on Salah a-Din Road to purchase gasoline. The car pulled over to the side of the road due to nearby fighting and was then shot at by a tank positioned nearby, B'tselem said. According to B'tselem, the two did not appear to be Hamas fighters or in the vicinity of other fighters. A few days ago, B'Tselem received a call from the Military Police which asked that the organization set up a meeting with Barakeh's brother and several other Palestinians who found the bodies. The IDF confirmed that an investigation into the incident had been opened and said it was committed to completing all the investigation into allegations that were leveled against the military following Cast Lead. On Tuesday, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi told the Knesset that he was opposed to the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into Cast Lead. "We had already investigated ourselves even before Goldstone showed up," Ashkenazi said, adding that no soldier had yet been found guilty of intentionally killing a Palestinian civilian. Honest mistakes were made during the operation, he said, some of which resulted in the deaths of IDF soldiers. Last week, Ashkenazi appointed Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yuval Halamish, a former chief intelligence officer, as the "project manager" for the IDF's efforts to complete a new report in the coming weeks to answer the accusations raised in Goldstone's report. Defense officials said that one of Halamish's first tasks will be to ensure that the investigations advance swiftly. He will also coordinate with other government ministries regarding the information required to write a "counter-Goldstone report."