News / Middle East

Israel Says It Disciplined High-Ranking Officers in Gaza Offensive

Reprimand for shelling of U.N. compound would be first Israeli army admission of wrongdoing by high-level officers during incursion

Luis Ramirez

Israel's army says it has disciplined two high-ranking officers for letting their troops fire artillery shells at a U.N. compound in Gaza last year.  The army, however, denies a newspaper report that the officers were reprimanded for firing white phosphorus.

The report in the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz said Israel announced the punishment against the two officers in a report submitted to the United Nations last Friday. The Israeli report was in response to a U.N. document that accused Israel of committing war crimes during its 22-day offensive on militants in Gaza 13 months ago.

Israel's reprimand of the officers, named by the newspaper as Brigadier General Eyal Eisenberg and Colonel Ilan Malka, would be the first time the Israeli army has admitted to wrongdoing by high-level officers during the Gaza offensive.

Captain Barak Raz, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, tells VOA the men were disciplined - but not court-martialed - for letting soldiers fire artillery in the direction of a crowded U.N. compound.

"They are reprimanded for overstepping their authority in the use of artillery in a built up area. This reprimand will go with them for the rest of their military careers. It is something that will appear in their record," Raz said. 

The Haaretz newspaper on Monday reported the officers had been reprimanded for exceeding their authority in allowing the use of highly flammable white phosphorus shells during the offensive.  The army denied the report that the men had been disciplined for firing white phosphorus over the U.N. compound where hundreds of Palestinian civilians were taking cover.

U.N. officials accuse Israel of using white phosphorus improperly by firing it in densely populated areas of Gaza.  Israel says it used white phosphorus but claims it did so in accordance with international norms.

In the U.N. report, war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone accuses Israel of using disproportionate force and targeting civilians.  Israel has denied the charges. The report also accuses Hamas - the militant Islamist group that controls Gaza - of firing rockets at civilian communities in southern Israel. The report calls for war crimes proceedings against Israel unless it conducts an independent probe.

Israeli military authorities have launched investigations of more than 150 cases, some of which remain open.  The probes have resulted in one criminal conviction so far, in the case of two soldiers found guilty of stealing a Palestinian civilian's credit card.

Israel launched the offensive, known as Operation Cast Lead, in a bid to stop militants from launching rockets at Israel, which they had been doing for years.  About 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the offensive, as well as 13 Israelis.

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