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Middle East
Israel to shield Gaza war soldiers
Prime minister pledges legal protection to troops against possible war crime charges.
Last Modified: 25 Jan 2009 17:44 GMT
Israel has been accused of using white phosphorus in civilian areas in violation of international law[AFP]

Israel will give legal protection to soldiers who fought in the three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, has said.
  
"The commanders and soldiers sent to Gaza need to know that they are completely safe from different tribunals and Israel will help and protect them," he said on Sunday.

Olmert said he had appointed Daniel Friedman, the justice minister, to chair an inter-ministerial committee "to co-ordinate Israel's efforts to offer legal defence for anyone who took part in the operation.
  
"He will formulate questions and answers relating to the army's operations, which self-righteous people ... might use to sue  officers and soldiers," he said.

Israel's military censor has already banned the publication of the identity of the unit leaders who fought Hamas in the Gaza Strip for fear they may face war crimes charges.

'War crimes'

Amnesty International has said it is "undeniable" that Israel used white phosphorus in crowded civilian areas, contrary to international law, charging that this amounted to a war crime.
  
Accusing Israel of using excessive force, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has demanded that those responsible for bombing UN buildings in the Palestinian territory be made accountable.
  
UN schools and the main aid headquarters where tonnes of food was stocked were bombed.
  
Eight Israeli human rights groups have called on the Israeli government to investigate the scale of the casualties, describing  the number of dead women and children as "terrifying".
  
Israel insists troops did their best to limit civilian casualties in a heavily-populated area and blamed Hamas for hiding  behind civilians to fire rockets at southern Israel.
  
Gaza doctors put the Palestinian death toll at 1,330 with at least another 5,450 people wounded.

About 65 per cent of the dead were civilians, including 437 children.
  
Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians died during Operation Cast Lead, which ended last Sunday with a ceasefire.

Source:
Agencies
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