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Changing policy:

The IDF informed the High Court of Justice yesterday that after more than 10 years, it will reinstitute a policy of launching criminal investigations into the deaths of Palestinian civilians who are killed by soldiers.

The move, which marks a significant shift in army policy, will be announced next week when Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit testifies before the Turkel committee investigating the Mavi Marmara incident.

The change in policy comes against the backdrop of the relative calm in the security situation in the territories.

In October 2000, shortly after the outbreak of the second intifada, the previous MAG, Maj. Gen. Menachem Finkelstein, determined that the sheer volume and intensity of fighting did not allow the army to investigate each individual civilian death.

The policy called for an initial internal probe within the army. If that probe raised suspicions of criminal activity, the MAG would then order an investigation by the Military Police.

In recent months, the MAG's office has laid the groundwork for a change in policy. Mendelblit reached the conclusion that the current security situation does not justify maintaining the previous policy.

The number of violent incidents in the West Bank has decreased dramatically to the point where the army is no longer considered to be in the realm of full-fledged combat. The Israel Defense Forces are also engaged in close security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.

Under these circumstances, Mendelblit determined that the IDF should alter its focus to enforcing law and order. Thus the killing of a Palestinian civilian calls for an immediate investigation by the Military Police.

If, however, it becomes apparent that a shooting incident occurs as a result of an exchange of gunfire with hostile forces - as in, say, a Palestinian civilian death as a result of a gunbattle between IDF troops and a wanted terrorist - the MAG would have the authority to suspend a criminal investigation.