Israeli army won’t probe Gaza deaths

Ed O’Loughlin

THE Israeli army has decided not to order a disciplinary probe into the killing of 21 Palestinian civilians in November 2006.

The dead men, women and children included at least 13 members of the Athamneh family, among them a one-year-old girl. Another 35 people were injured as 12 155-millimetre heavy artillery shells struck the north Gaza town of Beit Hanoun for several minutes. Israeli rights groups yesterday claimed there was a “culture of impunity” in the Israeli security forces, after the decision was announced.

This week the Israel Defence Forces’ (IDF) adjutant-general announced that an extremely rare computer malfunction had caused the shells to strike 500 metres from their intended target, a field that had been used by militants to fire missiles at Israel. There was therefore no reason to charge any soldier with negligence or any other offence, Brigadier-General Avihai Mandelblit decided. The announcement did not consider the gunners’ supposed failure to notice their shells going astray.

The Beit Hanoun bombardment followed an incident in June 2006 in which seven members of the picnicking Ghalya family were killed by an explosion on a north Gaza beach. The Israeli human rights group B’tselem yesterday said the Beit Hanoun decision reflected a “culture of impunity” in the forces.

“We have to ask ourselves whether the IDF’s internal investigations meet the basic standards of international law,” said spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli.