07/15/2009, 00.00
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Palestinians used as human shields in Gaza, Israeli soldiers say

by Joshua Lapide
The organisation ‘Breaking the silence’ collects testimonies, which back charges by the United Nations, the Arab League and humanitarian organisations.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – During Israel’s ‘Cast Lead’ operation last December-January, Israeli soldiers used Palestinian civilians as human shields, sending them into houses they suspected were booby-trapped or into tunnels where thought armed men might be hiding, this according to one of many testimonies by Israeli combat and reserve soldiers who took part in the Gaza War that are in a booklet published by the organisation Breaking the Silence.

The 54 testimonies are anonymous. They reveal how readily houses and mosques were destroyed, even when they were not military targets, how the Israeli military fired phosphorous gas in the direction of populated areas, how innocent victims were killed with small arms, how private property destroyed, and most of all, how a permissive atmosphere in the command structure enabled soldiers to act without moral restrictions.

“The testimonies prove that the immoral way the war was carried out was due to the systems in place and not the individual soldier," Breaking the Silence’s Mikhael Mankin said.

But according to Israeli military spokeswoman Lt Col Avital Leibovich, the “IDF regrets the fact that another human rights organisation has come out with a report based on anonymous and general testimony—without investigating their credibility.”

Humanitarian and human rights organisations had previously made similar charges against the Israeli Defence Forces.

At the end of Operation Cast Lead, whose declared aim was to force Hamas to stop firing rockets at southern Israeli towns, charges were quickly made that Israel had used excessive force as evinced by the huge number of civilian casualties.

According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, the total number of Palestinians killed topped 1,400, more than 900 of whom were civilians, including almost 300 children.

According to the UN, the campaign damaged or destroyed more than 50,000 homes, 800 industrial properties, 200 schools, 39 mosques and two churches.

Many UN buildings were also hit, causing casualties among civilians who had sought refuge there.

By contrast, an internal investigation by the Israeli military said troops fought lawfully, although errors did take place.

A few weeks ago a UN team travelled to Gaza to determine whether the IDF committed war crimes.

Israeli authorities refused to cooperate with the team charging it was biased against Israel.

A fact-finding team commissioned by the Arab League also concluded that there was enough evidence to prosecute the Israeli military for war crimes.

It also said Palestinian militants were guilty of war crimes in their use of indiscriminate rocket attacks on civilians.

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