Israeli soldiers speak of ″shoot first″ policy in Gaza war | World | DW | 15.07.2009
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Israeli soldiers speak of "shoot first" policy in Gaza war

A group of Israeli soldiers who were part of the January invasion of the Gaza Strip say not enough was done to protect Palestinian civilians who were at times used as human shields.

A Palestinian man looks at a building destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City

The group of Israeli soldiers said they were ordered to shoot at any suspicious building

The anonymous testimony by 30 Israeli soldiers published by the campaign group "Breaking the Silence" on Wednesday, said the soldiers were given orders to fire on any target that looked suspicious without regard to the consequences. The troops also said Palestinian civilians were sometimes used as human shields.

Israel said the purpose of Operation Cast Lead had been to end rocket fire from Gaza aimed at its southern towns.

The Israeli military has denied the allegations and said they were based on rumor and hearsay.

"Moral slippery slope"

In print and video testimony, soldiers whose faces had been digitally blurred, said the army's focus in the Gaza offensive was to minimize its own casualties to maintain public support.

"Better hit an innocent than hesitate to target an enemy," an unidentified soldier said of his understanding of instructions repeated at pre-invasion briefings and during the 22-day operation, from Dec. 27 to Jan. 18.

Israeli soldiers gather on the border just before leaving Israel for the northern Gaza Strip

Israeli soldiers prepare to enter northern Gaza in January

"If you're not sure, kill. Fire power was insane. We went in and the booms were just mad," another said. "The minute we got to our starting line, we simply began to fire at suspect places. In urban warfare, anyone is your enemy. No innocents."

The report said testimonies show "the massive and unprecedented blow to the infrastructure and civilians" was a result of Israeli military policy, articulated by the rules of engagement, and encouraged by a belief "the reality of war requires them to shoot and not to ask questions."

The report says Israeli troops and the people who justify their actions are "sliding together down the moral slippery slope."

"This is an urgent call to Israeli society and its leaders to sober up and investigate anew the results of our actions," Breaking the Silence said.

International groups such as Amnesty International have in recent months accused Israel of war crimes and using indiscriminate and disproportionate force in Gaza.

Israeli army rebuts allegations

Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch said the Israeli military unlawfully fired white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of the Gaza Strip during its offensive, needlessly killing and injuring civilians.

Israeli officials insist troops went to great lengths to protect civilians, that Hamas endangered non-combatants by firing from civilian areas and that homes and buildings were destroyed only when there was a specific military need to do so.

"The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) regrets the fact that another human rights organization has come out with a report based on anonymous and general testimony - without investigating their credibility," Israeli military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich said on Wednesday. She dismissed the document as "hearsay and word of mouth."

Palestinian rights groups say about 1,400 Palestinians died during the operation. Thirteen Israelis died in the conflict, including 10 soldiers serving in Gaza.

sp/reuters/afp

Editor: Neil King

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