Israeli military closes Gaza shelling investigation (BBC) British Broadcasting Company) 2 May 2012 Last updated at 12:43 GMT)
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The Israeli military has closed an investigation into the killing of
21 members of a Palestinian family during its offensive on Gaza in
Witnesses said Israeli troops had told the Samouni clan to stay in a
house, out of their way, and later shelled it.
But the military advocate general found the claims of war
Israeli rights group B´Tselem said it was "unacceptable" no-one was
found responsible for an action that led to the killing
of "uninvolved civilians".
Israel says the three-week offensive was launched in response to
repeated rocket attacks on Israeli territory. Some 1,400 Palestinians
were killed, including hundreds of civilians, as well as 13 Israelis.
On 4 January 2009, infantry soldiers from the Israeli army´s Givati
Brigade ordered about 100 members of the Samouni clan to gather
inside one of their houses in the al-Zaytoun district of Gaza City.
The next morning, when a few members of the family tried to leave the
house, the military fired a missile or shell at them, killing one
person and wounding two others, according to B´Tselem.
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A few seconds later, the military fired two more shells or missiles
which hit the house directly, causing it to collapse on its
occupants, the group said. Twenty further people died, including nine
children and many women.
According to testimony given to the Haaretz newspaper by soldiers who
were present, the Givati Brigade´s commander called in missile
strikes on the house after concluding from aerial photographs that
armed combatants were inside.
Despite repeated requests by the Red Cross and other humanitarian and
human rights groups, the army prevented the removal of the injured
people from the house for two days.
After the wounded persons were finally evacuated on 7 January, troops
demolished the house with the dead bodies inside, B´Tselem said. The
bodies were only recovered from under the debris after the army
withdrew from Gaza about two weeks later.
B´Tselem subsequently filed a complaint with the Israeli authorities
about the incident, but on Monday evening it received a letter from
the military advocate general´s office saying its investigation had
´God will punish killers´
The attack on the civilians, "who did not take part in the fighting",
was not done knowingly and directly, or out of haste and
negligence "in a manner that would indicate criminal responsibility",
the letter said.
A military statement issued at the same time did, however, say it was
making changes to "ensure that such events will not happen again".
B´Tselem said the letter did not detail the findings of the
investigation or provide reasons behind the decision to close it.
"It is unacceptable that no one is found responsible for an action of
the army that led to the killing of 21 uninvolved civilians, inside
the building they entered under soldiers´ orders, even if this was
not done deliberately," said Yael Stein, B´Tselem´s head of research.
"The way the army has exempted itself of responsibility for this
event, even if only to acknowledge its severity and clarify its
circumstances, is intolerable.
"Shirking the responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of other
civilians and the immense damage caused by Operation Cast Lead
demonstrates yet again the need for an Israeli investigation
mechanism that is external to the army," Mr Stein added.
Salah Samouni, a survivor whose two-year-old daughter was among those
killed, told the Associated Press: "We are talking about a crime
"We know that God above will punish the killers. If they escaped
trial, they can´t escape God´s punishment," she added.
B´Tselem said only three indictments had so far been filed against
Israeli soldiers who took part in the Gaza offensive - for theft of a
credit card from a civilian, for use of a nine-year-old child as a
human shield, and for "manslaughter of an anonymous person". (© BBC
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