Mandelblit to decide on indictments in Gaza probe

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

Military Police investigations into allegations of crimes by IDFpersonnel during Operation Cast Lead have uncovered evidence that couldlead to indictments against officers and soldiers, a top officer saidon Sunday.
Military Advocate-General Maj.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit will make thefinal decision on whether charges will be brought against the soldiers.
On Friday, Israel released a 46-page paper documenting the steps it hadtaken to investigate Operation Cast Lead operations while stressingthat its military judicial system was independent and under civilianreview.
The document revealed that disciplinary action had been taken againsttwo top officers – Brig.-Gen. Eyal Eizenberg, commander of the GazaDivision, and Col. Ilan Malka, commander of the Givati Brigade duringthe operation – for permittingartillery fire near a UN compound in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood ofsouthern Gaza City. According to the report, OC Southern CommandMaj.-Gen. Yoav Galant decided to sanction the officers after they“violated the rules of engagement prohibiting use of such artillerynear populated areas.”
The incident occurred on January 15, 2009, in the Tel al-Hawaneighborhood. During fighting with Hamas forces positioned alongsidethe northern wall of an UN Relief and Works Agency facility, the IDFfired artillery shells with white phosphorous-soaked wedges to coverthe movement of Israeli forces. Some of the shells allegedly fellwithin the UNRWA compound, injuring three people and causing damage.
The IDF’s investigation found that Hamas units had fired at the IDFwith various kinds of weaponry, including light weapons, anti-tankmissiles, and sniper fire. Hamas anti-tank units, equipped withadvanced anti-tank missiles, were also operating in the area. Despitethese findings, Galant decided to sanction the officers for theartillery fire.
Evidenceof possible wrongdoing by other soldiers was discovered in MilitaryPolice investigations opened following Operation Cast Lead last winter.
Theofficer would not reveal which allegations were backed up by evidence,but other sources said the possibility that soldiers deliberatelykilled innocent Palestinians had been ruled out. The remaininginvestigations 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.
Todate, the IDF has opened 150 investigations into Cast Lead, mostlyfollowing complaints from human rights organizations, privatePalestinians and as a result of internal IDF probes.
Of the 150incidents, 36 have been referred for criminal investigations in whichsome 100 Palestinian testimonies have been collected, in addition toanother 500 from IDF soldiers and commanders.
One such case thathas caused a stir in the army has been the interrogation by MilitaryPolice of a number of mid-level officers and soldiers from theParatroopers Brigade after a complaint was filed by Palestinians whosaid they were abused during their detention during the offensive.
UNSecretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to report to the GeneralAssembly on Friday regarding what actions Israel and Hamas have takento investigate themselves. The Israeli report, titled “Gaza OperationInvestigations: Update,” focused on the investigations, legalproceedings and lessons learned from the Gaza offensive.