IDF closes probe into 2009 shelling in Gaza that killed 21 (ISRAEL HAYOM) Lilach Shoval and News Agencies 05/02/12)
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Military says incident, which took place during Operation Cast Lead
in Gaza, did not constitute a war crime and that civilians were not
targeted on purpose Advocate-general finds allegations of war
crimes "groundless," says soldiers did not act negligently BīTselem
says armyīs statement is insufficient.
The Israel Defense Forces
on Tuesday closed an investigation into a
2009 shelling of a house in Gaza that killed 21 members of a
Palestinian family, saying this did not constitute a war crime and
that the civilians had not been targeted purposefully.
incident occurred during Operation Cast Lead, the three-week war
between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Three and a half
years after Operation Cast Lead, Military Advocate-
General Brig. Gen. Danny Efroni announced that he would not indict
officers involved in the incident, meaning that no legal action would
be taken against Col. Ilan Malka, who was then commander of the
Israel launched the offensive in late 2008 with
the declared aim of
ending cross-border rocket fire that continuously struck southern
Israeli towns. Much of the fighting took place in densely populated
areas of the small coastal territory. More than 1,400 Palestinians
and 13 Israelis were killed in the conflict.
Witnesses said that
on Jan. 4, 2009, Israeli troops had ordered about
100 civilians in the Zeitun district of Gaza to enter the house and
stay there, out of their way. But the following day the house was hit
by Israeli shells and collapsed, killing many members of the extended
After an investigation into the shelling and
allegations of war
crimes, Military Advocate-General Efroni "found the accusations
groundless," the military said in a statement. "The military advocate-
general also found that none of the involved soldiers or officers
acted in a negligent manner." However, the military said it was
making changes to "ensure that such events will not happen
Reporting on Tuesday on the decision not to take legal
Israelīs Channel 10 television described the shelling as "the most
serious operational mishap" of the Gaza war.
In early 2010, then
Military Advocate-General Maj. Gen. Avichai
Mendelblit began investigating Col. Malka for allegedly ordering an
air strike on a Gaza building despite being aware that only civilians
During a police interrogation under caution, Malka
order to bomb the building, but denied that he knew civilians were
inside. Malka said he ordered the strike because aerial images had
shown terrorists armed with rocket-propelled grenades in the
Due to the investigation, then Chief of General Staff Lt.
Ashkenazi denied him a promotion. Malka currently holds the position
of Central Command operations officer. Now that the case against him
has been closed, after a delay of two years, he is expected to be
promoted to the rank of brigadier-general. However, Chief of General
Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz has decided that Malka will not be
promoted to a command position, according to Israel
Mendelblit said on Tuesday that facts discovered during
investigation refuted accusations of war crimes against Malka and
that others involved in the incident were also found innocent of
wrong-doing. Mendelblit added that Malkaīs decision did not deviate
from the decisions that any "reasonable officer" would make.
Col. (res.) Sammy Asraf, who was Givati Brigade chief of staff at
the time, told Israel Radio that had Malka not ordered the strike,
Givati soldiers "would no doubt have been wounded." He emphasized
that the shelling was aimed at a house from which heavy fire was
being aimed at the Israeli troops.
The army statement said, "The
Military Advocate-General, Brig. Gen.
Danny Efroni, has stated his opinion regarding alleged ...war crimes
in Gazaīs (Zeitun) neighborhood. According to the findings, the
investigation found the accusations groundless."
conclusion ... Efroni decided that legal action should not be
taken, and ordered for the investigation to be terminated
immediately," the statement said. The military advocate-general
emphasized that lessons should be learned from this incident to
prevent similar ones from happening in the future. Toward this end,
the military advocate-general made several recommendations to the
chief of general staff that have already been raised with general
A U.N. commission that investigated the
offensive in Gaza put the
toll of members of the Samouni family killed in the strike at 29. The
commissionīs chairman, South African judge Richard Goldstone, said it
was one of the most serious incidents his team had investigated.
Israel refused to cooperate with the inquiry and strongly criticized
Goldstoneīs conclusions, which said Israel and Hamas were both guilty
of war crimes, as biased.
The militaryīs move outraged relatives
of the killed Palestinians and
the Israeli human rights group that had pressed for the
investigation. They said the findings proved the army is not capable
of investigating the conduct of its soldiers.
"We are talking
about a crime against civilians," said Salah Samouni,
34, whose 2-year-old daughter was killed when Israeli shells slammed
into the Gaza City house where the family had gathered.
that God above will punish the killers. If they escaped
trial, they canīt escape Godīs punishment," said Samouni, who
survived the shelling.
The Israeli group BīTselem, one of the
human rights groups that had
submitted a complaint about the incident, said the response it
received from the military did not detail the findings of the
shelling investigation or provide reasons behind the decision to
close the file.
"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 soldiersī orders, even if this was
not done deliberately," Yael Stein, BīTselemīs head of research, said
in a statement.
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