Israeli military closes probes

Evidence lacking in Gaza cases

The Associated PressMarch 31, 2009 

  • PEACE PLEDGE: Incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that his new government will have an "outstretched hand" for peace to the Arab world.

    "The government I am about to form will do all it can to achieve a just, long-lasting peace with our neighbors and the entire Arab world," Netanyahu said. "Each of our neighbors truly willing to move toward peace will find an outstretched hand."

    Netanyahu is set to introduce his new coalition government today.

    SYRIAN COMMENTS: Syria's president made clear Monday that he still wants peace with Israel but told Arab leaders they must take a tougher approach when dealing with Netanyahu's new government.

    Addressing an Arab League summit in Qatar, Bashar Assad presented himself as someone who could lead the Arab world on an alternative course toward peace with Israel. At the same time, he urged militants to keep up "resistance," saying it is needed to force the incoming Israeli prime minister to compromise or discussions. The position of Netanyahu's incoming government is not clear yet.

— Citing insufficient evidence and hearsay, the Israeli military on Monday closed an investigation into two cases of alleged killings of Gaza civilians that had caused an uproar in Israel and around the world.

Israeli soldiers had described the alleged incidents in a closed-door meeting at a military prep school. Their accounts, along with their reports of vandalism in Palestinian homes, were published by Israeli media earlier this month. One case involved the alleged killing of an elderly woman by a rooftop sniper, and the second described a sniper fatally shooting a mother and two children who had entered a no-go zone.

The chief army prosecutor, Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit, announced the criminal investigation after the accounts became public.

But on Monday he said he would not file charges, saying crucial components of the soldiers' descriptions were based on hearsay.

He said the soldiers had been careless in their remarks and harmed Israel's image. He said other investigations into army conduct during Israel's three-week offensive would continue, but he did not elaborate.

The Israeli military used unprecedented force in its war against Gaza's Hamas rulers in December and January. The offensive was aimed at halting eight years of rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli border towns. After a week of aerial bombardments, the military launched a two-week ground offensive.

More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including more than 900 civilians, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which published a list of names of the dead. Israel disputed the figure and said more armed men than civilians were killed but did not publish a list to back up its claim.

Israel has said it did everything it could to prevent casualties among Gaza civilians, including dropping leaflets and sending phone messages to civilians to evacuate certain areas. However, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch said it is investigating a number of cases in which civilians came under fire while trying to leave the war zone.

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