Thursday, 16 July 2009

Soldiers speak of Gaza war crimes

A new report into the actions of Israel's soldiers during the Gaza war suggests civilian Palestinians were used as humans shields and soldiers were urged to "shoot first and worry later".


No-one knows how many Palestinian civilians died in the Gaza war.

Palestinian organisations say there were almost one thousand victims while the Israeli Army insists there were less than 300.

Either way it was a bloody conflict and now an Israeli group called Breaking the Silence is accusing the Army of endangering civilians unnecessarily.

Their evidence - interviews with 30 Israeli soldiers who took part in operation Cast Lead.

1ST SERGEANT IN THE ISRAELI ARMOURED CORPS (RESERVE), AMIR, SAYING:

"At any obstacle, any problem, we open fire and don't ask questions. Even if it's firing in the dark, firing aimed at unknown target, firing when we don't see, deterrent fire, no problem with that, etc. A vehicle that's in the way - crush it, a building in the way - shoot at it. This was the spirit which was repeated throughout the training."

Another soldier described using civilians as human shields and making them check buildings for booby traps.

UNIDENTIFIED 1ST SERGEANT (RESERVE) IN ISRAELI 'GOLANY' INFANTRY BRIGADE, SAYING:

"Civilians were simply instructed to break walls. And in some cases there was actually entrance with the civilian, who would walk in front of the soldier while the soldier places his gun barrel on the civilian's shoulder."

Breaking the SIlence's 112-page report claims the Army fired white phosphorus into Gaza's streets, ordered the destruction of homes to create a "sterile area" and told soldiers there were "no innocents."

Yehuda Shaul is one of their members.

YEHUDA SHAUL, MEMBER OF 'BREAKING THE SILENCE', SAYING:

"I think one of the most disturbing things in 'Cast Lead' was the big concept of going in full force, like a war, without putting our troops in danger. Ok? The concept of we don't put our troops in danger, we don't take any risks, we prefer the mistakes to be on their body count than on ours. These are actual sentences that were said by battalion officers, by company officers, in the briefings that soldiers received before they went into Gaza."

Not so - says Israel's Defence Force.

ISRAELI ARMY SPOKESPERSON AVITAL LEIBOVITCH SAYING:

"The IDF Spokesperson Unit regrets the fact that yet another human rights organization is presenting to Israel and the world a report based on anonymous and general testimonies, without fully investigating their details or credibility. Furthermore, this organization denied the IDF the minimal decency, of presenting the report to the IDF and allowing it to investigate the testimonies prior to the report's publication."

The Army insists its troops respected international law.

But Breaking the Silence says its report gives them the right to at least question the credibility of such assurances.

John Mastrini, Reuters.