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The military prosecution's case against Captain R., who is charged with "confirming the kill" of a 13-year-old girl in Gaza, suffered a severe blow yesterday, when a key prosecution witness told the court that significant portions of his testimony to military police investigators were untrue.

Following the revelation, the judge, Lieutenant Colonel Aharon Mishnayot, ordered R., who has been under "open arrest" at his base, released from arrest and reinstated to the Givati Brigade. He also ordered that R.'s weapon be returned to him.

"There can be no debate over the fact that the dramatic development in the testimony of Lieutenant S., who frankly admitted that he did not tell the truth in the military police investigation, significantly undermines at least the value of this witness's testimony," Mishnayot said.

The defense is now asking the prosecution to withdraw the indictment entirely, but the prosecution apparently intends to continue the trial.

R. is charged with a series of crimes, including illegal use of a weapon and obstructing justice, stemming from the death of Iman Al-Hams near the Girit outpost last October. The girl was killed by Israel Defense Forces gunfire after entering an area near the outpost that Palestinians are forbidden to enter. The incident aroused a public storm, particularly after some of R.'s soldiers told the media that he had "confirmed the kill" at close range after Al-Hams was hit by the initial volley. R. denies confirming the kill at close range and says that the soldiers, and he himself, were unaware that they were shooting at a schoolgirl; they merely saw an unidentified Palestinian with a backpack in a no-go area and assumed that it was a militant.

At yesterday's hearing, the key witness was Lieutenant S., who was on lookout duty at the outpost when Al-Hams was killed. During cross-examination, defense attorney Elad Eisenberg asked whether it was true that following R.'s suspension, S. had boasted to the company: "We managed to get rid of the company commander."

"Not exactly," replied S. "I said it humorously." He then added: "Most of the soldiers in the company didn't care about the girl who was killed. Many people did it in order ... to get rid of the company commander."

"Did what?" Eisenberg demanded.

"Lied during the investigations," S. responded.

Eisenberg then accused S. of lying to investigators when he said that from his lookout post, he saw R. confirm the kill by firing two individual bullets, followed by a volley, into Al-Hams' body. S. provided a flurry of responses: "Not intentionally," "not maliciously," and finally, "I didn't exactly lie ... I said an untruth." Later he added: "I got confused over the course of events."

At this point Mishnayot asked whether S. had in fact seen the shooting from his lookout post, and S. replied that he had not: He merely heard two single shots followed by a volley. When the prosecutor repeated the question, S. changed his story again, saying that he did see the shooting, but with the naked eye, rather than with binoculars as he had claimed originally.

This plethora of contradictory statements presents a major problem for the prosecution, as S.'s testimony is one of the cornerstones of the case against R. Nor was this the first blow the prosecution has suffered: During a hearing three weeks ago, the second lookout also retracted parts of his initial testimony against R.

S., the company "strongman" and its most veteran member, has never made any secret of the fact that he was at odds with R. over the latter's efforts stop the practice whereby veterans had more rights than rookies and lorded it over them.