Israeli army: Gaza war troops to be disciplined

By Janine Zacharia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 6, 2010; 10:40 AM

JERUSALEM -- The Israeli military announced Tuesday that its top lawyer had indicted a staff sergeant on manslaughter charges and a lieutenant colonel for deviating from authorized protocol during Israel's 2009 military operation in the Gaza Strip.

A third soldier, a captain, was disciplined for not having exercised appropriate judgment during the military operation, which came in response to sustained cross-border rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.

Israel's military advocate general also announced that it has launched a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding Israeli aerial strikes that -- according to a United Nations report on the Gaza operation -- killed 23 members of one family.

The announcement of the investigation and disciplinary actions came hours before Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was to meet with President Obama in the White House for a session that U.S. officials said was intended to demonstrate the close relationship between the two countries, despite a several recent disagreements.

Human rights organizations have criticized Israel for not adequately investigating its own military actions or holding soldiers accountable for misdeeds committed during the Gaza operation, which Israel dubbed Operation Cast Lead. The military offensive in January 2009 killed nearly 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians.

A United Nations fact-finding mission led by a South African judge, Richard Goldstone, said Israeli forces and Palestinian militants committed war crimes during the conflict.

In his statement Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit, the advocate general, said the Israeli military has so far examined more than 150 incidents related to the Gaza operation.

In the manslaughter case, the military indicted the staff sergeant after finding evidence that he deliberately targeted a Palestinian walking with a group of people waving a white flag without being ordered to do so. Palestinians interviewed about the incident said two women in the group were killed by Israeli gunfire in the incident, the statement from the advocate general's office said, but Israeli soldiers testified that one person, a man, was fatally shot.

In the other indictment, the lieutenant colonel, a battalion commander, was charged with authorizing the use of a Palestinian as a human shield.

The captain who was disciplined was found to have exercised poor judgment for allowing an aerial strike on a suspected terror target in close proximity to a mosque.

Although the Israeli military has indicted a few other people on various charges associated with the Gaza operation, the indictment of the staff sergeant was the first time someone has been charged with manslaughter in connection with the operation.

Special correspondent Samuel Sockol in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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