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In the wake of an Haaretz expose, the Israel Defense Forces on Thursday ordered an investigation into soldiers' accounts of alleged misconduct and serious violations of the army's rules of engagement.

Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit instructed the Military Police Investigation unit to launch the probe after soldiers were quoted as telling a military cadet academy that combat troops in Gaza fired at unarmed Palestinian civilians and vandalized property during Operation Cast Lead.

The head of the pe-military course, Danny Zamir, told Haaretz on Wednesday that he did not know in advance what the soldiers would say at the gathering, and what they said "shocked us." He said that after hearing the soldiers, he told IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi about his fears of a serious moral failure in the IDF.

The chief of staff's bureau requested a copy of the transcript of the discussion, and Zamir provided it. This week Zamir met with the IDF's chief education officer, Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister, to discuss the matter. Zamir said he believed the army would take the matter seriously. "They do not intend to avoid responsibility," he said.

The IDF Spokesman's Office said: "As a result of the request of the head of the Rabin pre-military course, Mr. Danny Zamir, to the chief of staff's bureau, a meeting was held between Zamir and the chief education officer, Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister. The chief education officer described to the head of the preparatory course the processes of the operational and ethical inquiries being conducted by the IDF and the chief education officer's staff at all levels."

The chief education officer also described "the actions taken before during and after the operation to inculcate the soldiers and commanders with the moral aspects of the fighting."

The spokesman said that "Brig. Gen. Shermeister also made it clear that the IDF is now conducting intensive and comprehensive inquiries, and that commanders are encouraging discussion of these matters. The IDF has no supporting or prior information about these events. The IDF will check their veracity and investigate as required. The head of the preparatory course was also asked to pass on to the IDF any information he has so we can deal with it and investigate it in depth."

The IDF Spokesman's Office said: "As a result of the request of the head of the Rabin pre-military course, Mr. Danny Zamir, to the chief of staff's bureau, a meeting was held between Zamir and the chief education officer, Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister. The chief education officer described to the head of the preparatory course the processes of the operational and ethical inquiries being conducted by the IDF and the chief education officer's staff at all levels."

The chief education officer also described "the actions taken before during and after the operation to inculcate the soldiers and commanders with the moral aspects of the fighting."

The spokesman said that "Brig. Gen. Shermeister also made it clear that the IDF is now conducting intensive and comprehensive inquiries, and that commanders are encouraging discussion of these matters. The IDF has no supporting or prior information about these events. The IDF will check their veracity and investigate as required. The head of the preparatory course was also asked to pass on to the IDF any information he has so we can deal with it and investigate it in depth."

Barak: We have the most moral army in the world

In reaction to the revelations in Haaretz, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he was confident the IDF would look into the matter "with all seriousness."

"We have the most moral army in the world," Barak told Israel Radio. "I spent dozens of years in uniform, I know what happened in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and I say to you that from the chief of staff down to the last soldier, the most moral army in the world stands ready to take orders from the government of Israel. I have no doubt that every incident will be individually examined."