The Israel Defense Forces prosecution on Thursday filed an indictment against two combat soldiers suspected of inappropriate conduct during Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip in 2008.

The soldiers, who served as staff sergeants in the Givati Brigade during Operation Cast Lead, allegedly forced a 9-year-old Palestinian boy to open a number of bags they thought might contain explosive materials. The bags turned out to be harmless.

The soldiers, who breached the army's rule against using civilians as human shields during war, will be tried for violating their authority and for inappropriate conduct. An Israeli military official said the soldiers could face up to three years in jail.

The incident in question occurred in the Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood in south Gaza City in January 2009, toward the end of the war.

The military said it opened the investigation after the incident was brought to its attention by the United Nations, but emphasised it was "completely unrelated" to a report issued by United Nations investigator Richard Goldstone.

Israel has said it opened 36 criminal investigations into complaints of improper conduct by its troops during the fighting with Hamas gunmen, much of which occurred in residential areas.

Last month a senior Israeli field officer in the Gaza war was reprimanded over artillery shelling in a heavily populated area that hit a United Nations compound during the fighting.

IDF court releases soldier convicted of beating Palestinian

In a separate incident earlier Thursday, the military court ordered the release of Adam Malul, an IDF officer convicted in December on charges of aggravated assault and conduct unbecoming an officer after hitting a Palestinian in the West Bank.

In sentencing the officer, 1st Lt. (res.) Adam Malul of the Kfir infantry brigade, the court ruled that he had already served a sufficient punishment after spending 64 days in jail and a further 32 days under house arrest.

The court also rejected a request by the prosecution to demote Malul to the rank of private.

Malul was convicted in of hitting a man while making an arrest in the West Bank village of Kadum in September 2008.

In its December verdict, the court rejected testimony by a former commander of the Kfir infantry brigade, Col. Itai Virob, and a former commander of the Shimshon unit, Lt. Col. Shimon Harush, in which they justified hitting Palestinian detainees under exceptional circumstances.

Malul's family has said that the trial was a smear campaign against him and accused the court of scape-goating him while acquitting his superiors.

During his trial, Malul testified that he was not ashamed of hitting the Palestinian man, saying, "It was what I had to do".

However, GOC Central Command Gadi Shamni testified during the military trial that IDF soldiers were not authorized to attack Palestinian civilians during arrest raids, adding that those who cross the army's "red lines" must be put to trial.

Shamni added that the IDF never authorized the use of such aggression during questioning of detainees.