The southern command military court convicted two Israeli soldiers on Sunday of using human shields during Operation Cast Lead, Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip, in the winter of 2008-2009.

The soldiers were convicted of offenses including inappropriate behavior and overstepping authority for ordering an 11-year-old Palestinian to search bags suspected to have been booby trapped.

The conviction is the first such conviction for what is termed in the Israel Defense Forces "neighbor procedure" – the use of human shields during searches and pursuits, which has been outlawed.

Friends of the two soldiers gathered outside the courthouse on Sunday to show their support. They were all wearing T shirts with the slogan "we are victims of Goldstone," written on them, referring to the damning UN report, penned by jurist Richard Goldstone, which accused Israel of committing war crimes during the Gaza war.

The incident occurred during a search conducted by Givati soldiers in southern Gaza City in January 2009. IDF protocols strictly prohibit the use of civilians as human shields.

An investigation into the incident was launched last July, after a United Nations report on children in armed combat brought the details of the event to the military police's attention.

The indictment also relied on a complaint filed by the Israeli chapter of the Defense for Children organization.

The IDF spokesperson's unit stressed that, during every incursion, soldiers were told that forcing civilians to assist in military operations was strictly forbidden, especially if such action were to endanger their lives.