World

Israeli soldiers allege abuses against Palestinians

A group of Israeli soldiers who say they took part in January's military operation in Gaza are claiming widespread deadly abuses were committed against Palestinian civilians.

A group of Israeli soldiers who say they took part in January's military operation in Gaza are claiming widespread deadly abuses were committed against Palestinian civilians.

The accusations, which come in a new 110-page report released by a group called Breaking the Silence, were quickly dismissed by the Israeli military, accusing the group of "defaming and slandering the IDF and its commanders."

The report includes the testimony of 26 soldiers who participated in the three weeks of Gaza fighting. Breaking the Silence said it included troops who approached the group or were reached through acquaintances of group members. Two were junior officers and the rest were lower-ranking troops.

The soldiers were not identified, and no dates or locations were provided for the events they recount.

But Breaking the Silence — an organization of Israeli army reservists — said it has testimonies of Israeli soldiers who claim Palestinian civilians were used as human shields and who describe the improper use of white phosphorus and the needless destruction of homes, all in "an atmosphere that encouraged shooting anywhere."

"My impression about rules of engagement was that, at least at our level, they were not clear. There were no clear red lines," said one soldier, according to the report.

"We did not get instructions to shoot at anything that moved," said another soldier, Reuters reported. "But we were generally instructed: if you feel threatened, shoot. They kept repeating to us that this is war and in war opening fire is not restricted."

According to the report, another soldier said the force would sometimes enter a house, placing rifle barrels on a civilian's shoulder, "using him as a human shield.

"Commanders said these were the instructions and we had to do it," the soldier reportedly said.

Israel's military countered that the report was "based on anonymous and general testimonies, without investigating their details or credibility."

Verifying accounts difficult

The military also said the fact that no identifying details are given makes verifying the accounts impossible, and urged soldiers who saw improper behaviour to come forward and register official complaints.

More than 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 900 civilians, were killed in the Gaza fighting, thousands of homes were destroyed and Gaza's infrastructure suffered heavy damage, according to Gaza health officials and human rights groups.

Israel puts the death toll closer to 1,100 and says most were armed fighters. Thirteen Israelis also were killed, including three civilians who died from rocket fire.

Israel has blamed January's conflict on Hamas militants, saying the goal of the incursion was to stop rocket fire from Gaza into Israeli towns. It also blames Hamas for civilian casualties, accusing them of using civilians and civilian buildings for cover.

With files from The Associated Press