'I Don't Believe IDF Harmed Gaza Civilians in Cold Blood'

In response to Haaretz expose of troop testimonies, IDF chief says unethical incidents were 'isolated'.

Israel Defense Forces Chief Gabi Ashkenazi said Sunday that he did not believe Israeli soldiers harmed Palestinian civilians in "cold blood" during the offensive in the Gaza Strip, in his first response to a Haaretz expose revealing testimonies given by troops who served in Operation Cast lead.

Haaretz last week published a report detailing IDF soldiers' accounts of ethical violations in the Gaza offensive earlier this year. According to testimonies given by combat pilots and infantry soldiers, Israeli forces killed Palestinian civilians under permissive rules of engagement and intentionally destroyed their property.

"I can say that the IDF is the most moral army in the world," Ashkenazi told a group of new recruits. "We must remember where we were operating: in a place where Hamas turned a residential neighborhood into a battleground, public facilities into weapons storehouses."

The chief of staff said that the IDF has opened an investigation into the claims, adding that any soldier found in violation of the army's moral standards would be put on trial.

"[The army] is awaiting the results of the investigation, but my impression is that the IDF acted morally and ethically," Ashkenazi said. "If there were incidents like these, they were isolated."

The soldiers' testimonies run counter to the IDF's claims throughout the operation that troops observed a high level of moral behavior.

A number of officers told Haaretz over the weekend that the testimonies did not surprise them, as "anyone with eyes in his head knows that these things happened during the fighting in Gaza."

The soldiers who testified about misconduct "placed a very unpleasant mirror before us," said one officer.