Israeli Soldiers 'Disciplined' over UN Compound Attack in Gaza, But Deny Widespread Wrong Doing

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by
The Guardian/UK

Israeli Soldiers 'Disciplined' over UN Compound Attack in Gaza, But Deny Widespread Wrong Doing

by
Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem

Palestinian firefighters at the UN warehouse in Gaza City after it was hit by Israeli strikes on 15 January last year. Israeli soldiers have been 'disciplined' over the attack. (Photograph: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

Two senior Israeli army officers have been "disciplined" over the firing of artillery shells towards a United Nations compound in a crowded urban area during the war in Gaza last year.

It is the first acknowledgement by the Israeli military of any of the serious allegations raised by international human rights groups and two UN investigations, which have found grave breaches of international law and evidence of possible war crimes.

The
UN compound was hit and its main warehouse burned to the ground, and
three people were injured during the attack in Gaza City on 15 January
last year. Several other buildings in the area were hit that day,
including a Palestinian hospital.

The two officers were named in
Israeli press reports today as Gaza Division Commander Brigadier
General Eyal Eisenberg and Givati Brigade Commander Colonel Ilan Malka.
It is not clear what form of discipline the men faced, but both were
accused of "exceeding their authority in a manner that jeopardised the
lives of others", according to an Israeli report on the conduct of the war that was submitted to the UN on Friday.

The
report found Israeli troops "fired several artillery shells in
violation of the rules of engagement prohibiting use of such artillery
near populated areas". However, it also stated that Israel's
military advocate general "found no basis" to order a criminal
investigation into the incident in Tel al-Hawa. So far only one Israeli
soldier has been prosecuted over the war - for stealing a credit card
from a Palestinian house.

Last year, a UN Board of Inquiry report
investigated Israeli attacks on UN buildings and staff in Gaza during
the war and accused the Israeli military of "negligence or
recklessness". It singled out several incidents, including the attack
on the UN compound. The warehouse, run by the UN Relief and Works
Agency which supports Palestinian refugees, was the biggest in Gaza and
was full of food and aid for the population.

In the past two weeks Israel has paid $10.5m (£6.6m) in compensation to the UN for the damage.

But
in its report, the Israeli authorities maintained that their use of
white phosphorus munitions "was consistent with Israel's obligations
under international law" and said the military advocate general found
no grounds for any disciplinary measures over their use. The
disciplining of the two officers was specifically about the firing of
"artillery shells". The two were disciplined by their senior officer,
Yoav Galant, the head of the Israeli military's Southern Command.

A report by the South African judge Richard Goldstone,
commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, described how UN staff
that day called Israeli authorities at least seven times asking them to
stop the shelling of the compound. Goldstone found that three
high-explosive shells and seven white phosphorus artillery shells,
probably from a 155mm howitzer, had hit the compound. It concluded that
the Israeli military violated customary international law.

 

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