Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 11:56 am (KSA) 08:56 am (GMT)

Israel disciplines officers over Gaza shelling

A general and a colonel were reprimanded by the Israeli military (File)
A general and a colonel were reprimanded by the Israeli military (File)

The Israeli military has disciplined two senior officers for the firing of white phosphorous shells toward a U.N. compound during the Gaza war, Israeli media said on Monday.

In the official response to a damning U.N. report on the 22-day war handed to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday, Israel said a brigadier general and a colonel had been disciplined for the actions following an internal army inquiry, several local newspapers said.

The Israeli army confirmed the reports, but declined to provide further comment.

 The special command investigation revealed that, during the course of a military operation in Tel El Hawa, IDF forces fired several artillery shells in violation of the rules of engagement prohibiting use of such artillery near populated areas 
Ynet News quoting Israeli response

Local media named the two men, the highest-ranking officers that Israel has sanctioned over the war that killed 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, as Brigadier General Eyal Eisenberg and Brigade Commander Colonel Ilan Malka.

Eisenberg, still heads Israel's Gaza division while Malka now runs military operations in the West Bank under the same rank.

"The special command investigation revealed that, during the course of a military operation in Tel El Hawa, IDF forces fired several artillery shells in violation of the rules of engagement prohibiting use of such artillery near populated areas," the Ynet news website quoted Israel's response as saying.

The two men were found guilty of "exceeding their authority in a manner that jeopardized the lives of others," the Haaretz daily quoted the response.

"It (the reprimand) goes on their record and will come up in their careers any time a promotion comes up," a military spokesman, Captain Barak Raz, said.

Illegal use of white phosphorus

 It (the reprimand) goes on their record and will come up in their careers any time a promotion comes up 
Military spokesman Captain Barak Raz

The incident occurred on Jan. 15, 2009 when the military fired white phosphorous shells in the vicinity of a compound of the U.N.'s agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza City with the intent of obscuring Israeli troop positions from Hamas fighters in the area, media said.

International law prohibits the use of white phosphorous in heavily populated civilian areas, but allows them in open areas to be used as cover for troops.

Israel has paid the United Nations $10.5 million for damage to U.N. property during the offensive Israeli forces launched in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 with the declared aim of curbing cross-border rocket attacks.

Israeli officials have called the damage to U.N. facilities unintentional, saying troops had responded to Palestinian fire.

Investigations ongoing

 We keep our high standards on morality, and the fact that we took disciplinary action against very high and senior officers is just the proof 
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon

The U.N. report, authored by South African judge and former international war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone, was released in September and accused both Israel and Palestinian militants of war crimes.

It recommended its findings be passed to the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court at The Hague if Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers fail to carry out credible independent investigations of the claims.

Israel had boycotted the U.N. investigation called the report unbalanced.

But it issued its "Gaza Operation Investigations: An Update" document on Friday, facing a threat by Goldstone to refer war crimes suspicions to an international court unless Israel and the Palestinians launched investigations.

"Israel does not need any admonition from the international community," Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Reuters.

"We keep our high standards on morality, and the fact that we took disciplinary action against very high and senior officers is just the proof," he said, speaking in English.

The Israeli report to the United Nations said the military had launched 36 criminal investigations into the conduct of Israeli forces, resulting so far in one conviction. One soldier was jailed for stealing a credit card from a Palestinian home.

"The Military Advocate-General has exercised his discretion to close 7 criminal investigations without charges because the complainants refused to give testimony and/or there was insufficient evidence of a criminal violation," the document said.

"The remaining 28 investigations are ongoing."

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