Two separate official investigations are under way into the fatal shooting of a 13-year-old girl in Gaza by the Israeli army after soldiers testified that their company commander "emptied his magazine" at her after she had been shot and was presumed dead.
The army has already admitted that the killing of Iman al-Hams in the town of Rafah a week ago was a mistake and that her bag, which it says soldiers thought carried explosives, contained school books.
Relatives of 13 year-old Palestinian girl Iman Al Hams, mourn over her body at the family house during her funeral in Rafah refugee camp, southern of Gaza Strip, Tuseday, Oct 5. 2004. The girl was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers, according to local and army sources, when she wandered from her normal path to school. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra).
Soldiers have come forward to explain that her body was riddled with 20 bullets because their immediate commander "confirmed the killing" by shooting two bullets at her already prone body before withdrawing a short distance and then firing a burst of automatic gunfire at the corpse.
The Judge Advocate General, Brigadier General Avi Mandelblit, has instructed the military police to launch a criminal investigation against the commander in the Givati Brigade's crack Shaked Battalion as a result of the claim. Unusually, the investigation was ordered even though the army inquiry is incomplete.
The move follows interviews with soldiers serving in the company published in the Israeli newspaper Yedhiot Ahronot. It quoted them as saying the commander should have been stood down immediately after the incident. One soldier told the newspaper: "The company CO who sprayed the girl with bullets turned us all into vicious animals and besmirched us all ... If he is not dismissed, we will not agree to serve under him." Another said the commander had "desecrated the body".
According to figures produced by 11 UN agencies, 24 Palestinians under the age of 17 have been killed since 28 September when the army entered northern Gaza in response to the firing by Palestinian militants of two Qassam rockets which killed two Israeli children in Sderot. A nine-year-old girl was among 11 Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip over the weekend.
The investigations opened as security sources told the newspaper Haaretz that the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, had rejected a request from army commanders to withdraw from the densely populated Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza on the grounds that the fortnight-old operation "Days of Penitence" was endangering troops and that militants had now removed rockets to positions outside the camp.
Mr Sharon told the Knesset at the opening of what promises to be a difficult winter session for the government that it would be voting on 25 October on his plan to withdraw some 7,500 settlers from Gaza.
The level of difficulty was underlined last night when the legislature opposed by 45 to 33 a routine motion noting Mr Sharon's speech. Although it does not threaten Mr Sharon's administration, the defeat emphasised the strong opposition to the plan from the extreme right of Israeli politics and from the far right of his own Likud party, seven of whose members abstained last night.
© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd