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Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Israeli soldier to be charged over deaths of Gaza women

THE IRISH TIMES
Wednesday, July 7, 2010

MATTHEW KALMAN in Jerusalem

AN ISRAELI soldier is to face manslaughter charges for shooting dead two Palestinian women during Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip in January 2009.

Eyewitnesses said Raya Salma Abu Hajjaj (64) and her daughter Majda (35) were shot while walking with a group of 31 family members, most of them children, waving a white sheet in surrender as they tried to seek cover from the advancing Israeli forces.

The case was one of 30 documented in a UN report prepared by a special committee headed by Judge Richard Goldstone, but the army said it was already investigating the incident when the report was published.

The soldier, identified only as First Sergeant S of the Givati Brigade, will be the third Israeli soldier to stand trial for offences during Operation Cast Lead.

This was a three-week aerial bombardment and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip that destroyed hundreds of homes and left some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

Maj Gen Avichai Mendelblit, the Israeli military advocate general, said yesterday he had decided to take legal action against Israeli soldiers involved in several incidents during the incursion. Some officers and soldiers would face criminal indictments as a result of their conduct, while others would face disciplinary hearings.

A criminal investigation is also under way in the case of the deaths of 29 members of the Al-Samouni family in an air strike.

“More than 150 incidents have been examined and nearly 50 investigations have been launched by the military police criminal investigations division since the operation’s conclusion,” a statement from the Israeli army said.

Critics have accused Israeli forces of wanton killing and destruction during the invasion, but the army said the military operation was “limited in the scope of fire and forces used”.

“IDF soldiers operated in crowded urban areas while Hamas made deliberate and cynical use of the Palestinian population, creating a complex security situation,” the army statement continued.

“Hamas operated from within civilian homes, schools, kindergartens, mosques, hospitals and UN facilities while the population in the Gaza Strip was made hostage.”

Israeli rights activists said the military indictments barely scratched the surface.

Roi Maor, executive director of the Yesh Din legal rights group, accused the Israeli army of “massive failure to investigate” most of those responsible for suspected war crimes. “From September 2000 to 2009, only 18 soldiers were indicted for the deaths of Palestinian civilians and only four were convicted, most of them on very light charges,” Mr Maor said. “This hardly changes that grim statistic.”

Sarit Michaeli of the B’Tselem human rights group called for an independent investigation into “the widescale killing of uninvolved civilians and the extensive damage that was wreaked on the Gaza Strip”.

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