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The state will form an independent commission of inquiry into the death of 14 innocent Palestinian civilians, during a targeted killing of a high-ranking Hamas official in Gaza in 2002, the State Prosecutor's Office told the High Court of Justice yesterday.

The decision was made following a petition by Yesh Gvul, an organization of Israel Defense Forces reservists who oppose service in the territories. The organization's leader, Yoav Hess, filed the petition four years ago, after the Israel Defense Forces' chief military advocate general refused Hess' request to initiate a criminal investigation on the killing of Salah Shahade, then leader of Hamas' military wing.

On July 22, 2002, an Israel Air force F-16 dropped a one-ton bomb on the building in which Shahade was hiding. The blast destroyed many adjacent houses in a densely populated neighborhood of Gaza City. In all, 15 people were killed including Shahade, his wife and nine children. Some 50 people required medical attention as a result of the attack.

The independent committee, the State Prosecutor said, will determine whether the incident merits the initiation of a criminal investigation.

"We recognize there are special circumstances that apply to this case," said Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. "We therefore agree to an examination of the case by an objective, state-appointed committee."

Nitzan added, however, that "our position should not be viewed as a legal precedent." The committee, he said, would review the intelligence reports the IDF had prior to okaying the strike.

The High Court approved the IDF's policy of targeted killing in a precedent ruling in December. The decision stated that the deaths of civilians should be examined "objectively."