Five IDF probes find 'operational errors,' but no intentional attacks on civilians in Gaza op
There were no intentional attacks on civilians during Operation Cast Lead, the Israel Defense Forces found in five separate investigations into alleged international law violations.
The probes, ordered by Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and carried out by five colonels who did not take part in Operation Cast Lead, examined complaints that troops intentionally targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure, including medical teams and UNRWA installations. The investigation also examined allegations of illegal phosphorus munitions use.
The investigations found in several instances that operational mistakes caused civilian deaths, but Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Harel, who presented the findings, called these cases "isolated."
"Out of dozens of instances that we investigated, the IDF was shown to have conducted itself during the fighting in keeping with international law, and it maintained a high level of professional and moral integrity. We did not find a single instance in which an Israeli soldier intentionally harmed innocent civilians," Harel said.
The most noteworthy operational mishap mentioned was the strike on the Al-Daya family home in the Zeitoun neighborhood, in which 21 family members were killed. The air force was meaning to bomb a home that intelligence believed was being used to store Hamas arms, and residents of that building were called beforehand to warn them an attack was imminent.
According to the investigation, the Al-Daya home was several dozen meters away from the intended target. The error occured because the pilot was given mistaken coordinates.
The IDF described the incident as "saddening," but emphasized that it stemmed from "a professional mistake that could happen during intensive fighting."
A senior officer who was involved in the probes said, "We will not apologize for an operation in which only 10 of our soldiers lost their lives. We will not beat ourselves up over this, but we will be self-critical."
Another operational mishap occurred when the air force struck a truck near a rocket launcher and a rocket making workshop. The army thought the truck was transporting long-range rockets, but following the attack it learned it was carrying oxygen canisters. The attack killed eight Palestinians, including four Hamas members.
The probe into the use of phosphorus munitions, which Palestinian and international sources claimed caused dozens of civilian casualties, concluded that the IDF used "illuminating" phosphorus munitions, fired from mortars and naval vessels in order to "mark" positions. In one instance, phosphorus munitions were used to burn vegetation hiding tunnels used to launch attacks.
The probe found that such munitions never were used in populated areas.
Artillery shells containing phosphorus were also used to create smoke to cover troop movement. The IDF says such shells are used by all western armies, and that they cause no more than minor burns.
In 13 cases in which UN vehicles or installations were fired upon, the fire was not intended to harm the targets, the probe found. In one case, a UN vehicle was hit and a soldier was tried for opening fire without authorization.
In some of the instances in which medical facilities were hit or damaged by IDF fire, the examiners found the attacks were not intentional. It blamed a lack of coordination for fire at ambulances, as well as a lack of clear marking on the vehicles. Dozens of cases were recorded showing Hamas using ambulances to move gunmen and munitions.
The investigations concluded that the IDF ground forces destroyed 636 structures during the operation. According to the army, the structures were destroyed only with the approval of an officer ranked brigade commander, and they were targeted only if people fired from them or they were used by Hamas activities.
Structures were also destroyed to enable safe passage for troops. Hundreds of homes were destroyed in the air force's more than 1,400 air sorties.
The IDF says that during the fighting, 1,166 Palestinians were killed, including 709 members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and 295 confirmed as innocent civilians. Another 162 men older than 16 were killed whom it could not confirm as combatants or civilians.
"We are sorry for the deaths of innocents, but Hamas bears sole responsibility for behaving with cruelty toward the Palestinian people and cynically exploiting civilians," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in response to the findings.