IDF probes two senior officers over Gaza school shelling

Twenty Palestinians were killed when UN compound was struck last summer in response to mortar attack

A Palestinian man inspects the damage at a UN school in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, July 30, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Mahmud Hams)
A Palestinian man inspects the damage at a UN school in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, July 30, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Two senior IDF officers are reportedly being investigated by Military Police for their role in the shelling of a UN facility in Gaza that killed 20 Palestinians during last summer’s war with Hamas.

According to an Army Radio report Monday, the inquiry joins additional investigations underway into suspected IDF operational misconduct during the conflict in the coastal enclave between Palestinian groups and Israeli forces.

The officers, both of whom hold the rank of colonel — one served as a brigade commander during the operation — are the most senior to be investigated thus far.

The report noted that one of the officers was stationed outside the coastal strip and provided support artillery fire to IDF troops maneuvering inside Gaza.

The inquest centers around the July 30, 2014, shelling of a UN school used as a shelter for refugees in response to mortar attacks launched by Gazan operatives from there. Twenty people were killed and dozens wounded in the shelling, according to Human Rights Watch.

The IDF chief of staff opened an investigation into the incident at the request of human rights groups, and the probe was taken over by Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, after allegations surfaced of possible operational misconduct.

Based on the initial findings, Efroni said he had reasonable grounds to suspect that the shelling was not conducted according to IDF rules of engagement and was not in line with international law.

The probe joins another investigation into the bombing of a civilian clinic in the Palestinian territory, allegedly as retribution for the death of an Israeli soldier.

In that incident, Lt. Col. Neria Yeshurun is suspected of having ordered the shelling as revenge for the death of Cpt. Dimitri Levitas, who was shot by a Palestinian sniper hiding atop the medical facility a day earlier.

According to Palestinian sources, the strike on the complex killed five people, four of whom were civilians, and injured 45 others.

Since the probes center around judgment calls, a fierce debate has erupted within the IDF between those who believe the incidents warrant full Military Police investigations, which can lead to criminal prosecution, and those who want the inquiries limited to operational debriefings, which are usually dealt with internally.

Other incidents under investigation include the bombardment of a café in Khan Younis that resulted in the deaths of nine Palestinians and allegations of IDF abuse of a Palestinian detainee.

A number of additional investigations of operational misconduct during the Gaza war ordered by the Military Advocate General have already been closed, including a probe into a shelling of a Gaza beach that left four children dead on July 16.

In April, the Military Prosecution filed an indictment with a military court against three soldiers suspected of looting the homes of Palestinian civilians during the fighting.

The 50-day war killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, according to Palestinian tallies, and 73 Israelis, 66 of them soldiers.

Israel officially blames Hamas for Palestinian civilian casualties, noting that the group, which rules Gaza, often launched attacks from within residential areas.

Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.

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