Soldier faces charges over Cast Lead

IDF soldiers in Gaza during 2009's Operation Cast Lead

IDF soldiers in Gaza during 2009's Operation Cast Lead

The IDF's Military Advocate General, Major General Avichai Mendelblit, will hold a hearing next week for a soldier suspected of double manslaughter in last year's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

The solider allegedly shot and killed two Palestinian women who were in a group of civilians holding white flags. This is the third and most serious case in which charges are being brought against soldiers involved in the operation.

The incident was reported to the IDF by human rights group B'tzelem and was mentioned afterwards in the Goldstone Report, though the IDF insists that its investigation of the case preceded the publication of the report.

The incident occurred on January 4, 2009, when a group of about 30 Palestinians who had been ordered to leave their neighbourhood because of the fighting approached a temporary IDF outpost.

The soldier shot at the two women directly

An officer and other soldiers fired warning shots into a wall, a safe distance from the group, but the soldier, who has been identified only as "First Sergeant S", shot at them directly, killing two women.

Later, during questioning, the soldier said that he felt that his unit was under threat from terrorists who were hiding among the civilians.

Despite a protracted investigation which involved dozens of soldiers and officers, Major General Mandelblit decided to hold the hearing himself in order to ascertain what the soldier understood from the orders he was given. The hearing will also determine the exact nature of the charges.

The incident was already investigated in the first few months following the operation and the soldier's actions were termed "problematic". As a result he was transferred out of his brigade to a non-combat role.

The investigation was re-opened following the evidence supplied by B'tzelem, which indicated that a more serious crime had been committed.

So far, soldiers have been charged in two cases from Operation Cast Lead. In one, a soldier was convicted for stealing a credit card from a Palestinian home and using it at a cashpoint later on.

In the other, two soldiers were charged with ordering a Palestinian child to open bags that were suspected of being booby-trapped.

In addition to the criminal proceedings, two senior officers were disciplined for exceeding their authority in ordering the use of artillery in a built-up area.

The IDF Military Police Corps is still investigating dozens of allegations of misconduct during the operation and military sources say that there will be more cases in which charges will be brought.

"There were thousands of actions and incidents in an operation of this size," said a senior IDF officer, "and the small number of cases in which soldiers acted against their orders and harmed the local population are being investigated and eventually prosecuted."

The IDF Spokesman responded saying that "the findings of the Military Police investigation have been handed to the Legal Corps. They will decide what steps need to be taken. According to the regulations, the soldier was apprised of the suspicion that he committed a crime and his right to undergo a hearing before a decision is made."

    Last updated: 5:28pm, June 17 2010