The State Prosecution has agreed to establish an independent commission to investigate the circumstances surrounding the targeted assassination of Hamas' former military leader in the Gaza Strip, Salah Shehadeh, in June 2002.

Shehadeh died when the Israel Air Force dropped a one-ton bomb on a Gaza City neighborhood, killing 14 innocent people - mostly women and children - in the process.

The panel will establish whether a criminal investigation should be opened against those involved in the decision to bomb the neighborhood. The State Prosecution told the High Court of Justice of its decision during a hearing on a petition filed the peace organization "Yesh Gvul."

The organization filed the petition in September 2003 against then-military prosecutor Menachem Finkelstein, who refused to order a criminal investigation into the deaths of the 14 civilians.

Three months ago, the High Court ordered the state to declare whether or not it would agree to the establishment of an independent panel. When the court ruled in December 2006 that targeted assassinations are not illegal under international law, it also determined that the state is obligated to "objectively" investigate decisions taken by the Israel Defense Forces in cases where innocent civilians have been killed.

"Despite the fact that the regulations determined by the High Court's verdict on the policy of targeted assassinations are not applicable to the incident in question," wrote deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, "the state agrees that the circumstances under which innocent civilians were hurt in the course of the action against Shehadeh will be examined by an objective investigative committee that will be appointed for this purpose by state authorities."

The attack in July 2002 leveled an entire residential building in Gaza City. High Court justices repeatedly delayed the hearing on the petition, deciding it would be heard only after ruling on the targeted assassinations policy.