Israeli troops in Gaza fought under "permissive rules of engagement"
Israeli troops who fought in the recent offensive in the Gaza Strip killed Palestinians under permissive rules of engagement and destroyed their property, according to soldiers who participated in the fighting, reported dpa.
The accounts include reports of shooting at people known to be non-combatants, evacuating families to zones which the military had defined as no-entry zones and therefore would open fire at any person entering, acts of vandalism and abuse of humanitarian aid.
Israel launched its Operation Cast Lead on December 27, in response to repeated Palestinian rocket fire on southern Israel, and ended it on January 18.
The testimonies were given during a symposium on the offensive at the Rabin Pre-Military Academy and were reported Thursday in the Ha'aretz daily, and other Israeli newspapers, after the transcript of the February 13 discussion was made public this week.
An Israel Air Force pilot and infantry reserve troops participated in the gathering, in which most participants said the commands they received from senior offices were interpreted to mean the soldiers had almost unlimited license to act as they saw fit.
In one recounted incident, a mother and her two children were ordered to leave their house and turn right in the street. The mother however did not understand and turned left, but the officer on the spot did not tell a nearby sniper the three posed no harm. The sniper opened fire, killing them.
Another testimony described wanton destruction of property: "We just threw everything through the window in order to make room. The entire house's contents just flew out: Fridge, plates, furniture. The order was to extract the house's contents."
A third account, by a non-commissioned officer, told of an old woman shot by soldiers as she was crossing a main road.
"I don't know whether she was suspicious, not suspicious, I don't know her story. I do know that my officer sent people to the roof in order to take her out," he said.
One squad leader, quoted in Ha'aretz, said he argued with his commander over the permissive rules of engagement that allowed houses to be cleared by shooting the resident without prior warning.
"To write 'death to the Arabs' on the walls, to take family pictures and spit on them, just because you can. I think this is the main thing: To understand how much the IDF has fallen in the realm of ethics, really. It's what I'll remember the most," he said.
The head of the pre-miliary academy which hosted the symposium, Danny Zamir, told Ha'aretz on Wednesday that he did not know in advance what the soldiers would say at the gathering, and what they said "shocked us."
The IDF on Thursday ordered an investigation into the accounts soldiers' accounts and Defence Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio he was certain the IDF would examine the findings "with all necessary seriousness."