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Report: Israeli Troops Fired on Gazans Waving White Flags

Dion Nissenbaum

A Palestinian boy plays with a balloon amongst the rubble of his house which was destroyed during Israel's 22-day offensive in Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, April 2009. Israeli soldiers unlawfully shot and killed 11 Palestinian civilians, including four children, who were in groups waving white flags during the Gaza war, Human Rights Watch has said. (AFP/File/Mohammed Abed)

JERUSALEM — Israeli soldiers battling Hamas militants last winter
in Gaza opened fire on at least seven groups of Palestinian civilians
who were carrying white flags, killing 11 people, according to a Human
Rights Watch report released Thursday.

During the three-week conflict, the U.S.-based human rights group says,
Israeli soldiers in separate parts of Gaza killed five women, four
children and two men as they used white flags to try to escape the
battle zone.

report raises new questions about the actions of Israeli soldiers
during the military offensive. A United Nations investigation into
possible war crimes continues. McClatchy documented in January one of
the instances that Thursday's report outlines.

Israeli military needs to investigate," said Fred Abrahams, a Human
Rights Watch investigator who conducted research in Gaza on some of the
cases. "We want the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) to get to the bottom of

Israeli military officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

its report, Human Rights Watch concludes that the research "strongly
indicates that, at the least, Israeli soldiers failed to take all
feasible precautions to distinguish between civilians and combatants
before opening fire, as required by the laws of war."

"At worst," the group says, "the soldiers deliberately shot at persons known to be civilians."

with prolonged criticism and scrutiny, the Israeli government recently
revealed that it's looking into scores of allegations against soldiers,
including five incidents in which Israeli fighters are accused of
shooting Palestinian civilians carrying white flags.

Of the seven
cases Human Rights Watch documented, Abrahams said, Israeli soldiers
didn't intentionally kill civilians in five, each involving Palestinian
civilians shot while walking down desolate roads that Israeli forces
controlled. Rather, he said, the incidents appeared to be the tragic
result of Israeli military directives to soldiers that they take few
risks combined with poor coordination between Israeli units when
civilians had a green light to flee.

Two others, however, may have been intentional, Human Rights Watch found.

one, Palestinian witnesses said that an Israeli sniper shot and killed
a 40-year-old woman carrying a white flag when she emerged from her
house as an Israeli bulldozer was demolishing it in an attempt to tell
the Israeli forces that there were dozens of civilians inside the home.

the other, Human Rights Watch concluded that evidence backs Palestinian
claims that an Israeli soldier opened fire on a woman, her
mother-in-law and three girls as they stood on the steps of their home
waving a white flag.

Two of the girls, aged 2 and 7, were killed.
The third girl, 4, and the older woman were wounded. The 4-year-old was
one of the few who managed to escape Gaza for special medical care in

The incident took place Jan. 7 in the Ezbt Abed Rabbo
neighborhood after Israeli forces drove out the few Hamas fighters who
were trying to make a stand. Khaled Abed Rabbo, whose wife, daughters
and mother were involved, spoke with McClatchy a few days after the

Human Rights Watch said that evidence at the scene,
medical records and other testimony buttressed the family's story.
Investigators said they'd uncovered no evidence that the Palestinian
civilians were trying to shield militants from Israeli attacks.

report reveals some discrepancies in the stories that the survivors
told. In January, Abed Rabbo's mother, Souad, told McClatchy that she'd
pushed her son back into the house as the soldier opened fire. Khaled
Abed Rabbo told Human Rights Watch investigators that he was in the
house when the shooting started, however.

Abrahams attributed the inconsistency to the intense trauma the family went through during the fighting.

if your two girls got shot and killed," he said. "It's not surprising
that discrepancies come up in traumatic and chaotic situations, and
they must be probed. But the fundamental narrative remains clear."

expressed doubt that the Israeli military would or could conduct a
thorough investigation and noted that Israeli investigators had yet to
contact Khaled Abed Rabbo about his case.

According to Israeli
and Palestinian human rights groups, the Israeli military killed about
1,400 Palestinians during the conflict. Most of them, according to
research by the various groups, were women, children and men who
weren't directly involved in the fighting.

The Israeli military contends that it killed 1,100 Palestinians, the majority of whom were "terror operatives."

Ten Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians were killed during the 22-day conflict.

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