IDF: Probes Prove No War Crimes Committed in Gaza

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Haaretz (Israel)

IDF: Probes Prove No War Crimes Committed in Gaza

by
Anshel Pfeffer

A Palestinian girl does her homework in front of her family's destroyed home in the al-Atatra district of the northern Gaza Strip on February 17, 2009. (AFP/File/Marco Longari)

The Israel Defense Forces announced on Wednesday that an internal investigation has determined that no civilians were purposefully harmed by IDF troops during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.

The inquiries were performed by five IDF colonels who were not involved in the fighting in Cast Lead, and examined reports of attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, medical personnel and facilities, United Nations facilities, and also the use of white phosphorous.

The inquiries, which were supervised by IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, did find cases of civilians killed by mistaken fire on the part of IDF troops, but said the incidents were isolated.

Following the release of the investigation results, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the army's willingness to probe itself "one again proves that the IDF is one of the most moral armies in the world.

"The IDF is not afraid to investigate itself and in that, proves that its operations are ethical," said Barak. The defense minister added that he has "complete faith in the IDF, from the chief of staff to the last of the combat soldiers."

Deputy IDF Chief of Staff General Dan Harel said that in the dozens of cases they examined, they found that throughout Cast Lead the IDF "adhered to international law and maintained a high level of professionalism and morality."

The most glaring case of mistaken fire found by the inquiry was the attack on the Al-Dahiyeh family home in the Gaza City neighborhood of Zeitoun, in which 21 members of the same family were killed.

In the incident, the IDF called a household that was suspected of being a weapons storehouse and told the residents to evacuate, saying an attack was imminent.

The subsequent IAF strike, which was targeting a suspected weapons storehouse, landed dozens of meters from its target, slamming into the Al-Dahiyeh household.

The mistaken fire reportedly came as a result of a malfunction in the targeting system of the aircraft carrying out the mission.

The IDF has called the incident "regretful", but said it resulted from "an operational mistake that is bound to happen during intensive fighting."

Another incident reported in the probe's findings was the case of an IAF attack on a truck that military intelligence had reported was carrying Grad rockets. After the attack, which killed 8 Palestinians, including 4 Hamas gunmen, it was determined that the truck was transporting gas canisters.

An Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem, called the military's investigation flawed. and said it "does not answer the need for an independent inquiry outside the army that would look at the whole range of violations the army is incapable of looking at."

"Itshows how important it is that Israel cooperate with the fact-finding mission of [Richard] Goldstone that would look at violations," said spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli, speaking on behalf of a group of human rights groups that have made this demand in the past.

Goldstone, a former United Nations chief prosecutor for war crimes, was recently appointed to head a UN investigation into atrocities allegedly committed during Israel's three-week war against Gaza's Islamic Hamas rulers.

The investigation called by the UN's Human Rights Council was only supposed to look at Israeli conduct. But Goldstone did not accept the assignment until the mandate was changed to also examine Palestinian actions.

Israel has not said whether it would cooperate with the Goldstone investigation. But it has rejected council investigations in the past, calling them biased.

Among questions being raised is whether Israel used disproportionate force and failed to protect civilians.

In one case, Israeli artillery fire reportedly hit near a UN school where hundreds of Gazans had sought refuge, killing an estimated 42 people. Israeli said its troops were responding to fire from militants near the school, and both the incident and number of casualties have been disputed.

In another instance, Gazans allege Israeli soldiers ordered 110 civilians into a warehouse, then shelled it the next day, killing 30. Israel denies the army targeted the warehouse.

Israel also has been criticized for using white phosphorus weapons, which can be legitimately used in war to create smoke screens or provide illumination.

But rights activists have said its use over populated areas can indiscriminately burn civilians and constitute a war crime.

Israel says its army took great care to avoid harming civilians in Gaza, preceding some airstrikes with leaflets or phone calls warning civilians to flee - a contention confirmed by Gaza residents.

Israel is preparing for potential legal action, barring the media from publishing pictures of officers' faces and their names for fear of
investigations. It has promised legal and financial support for any officers facing trial, despite the difficulty of prosecuting Israelis.

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