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The Israel Defense Forces prosecution yesterday filed an indictment against two combat soldiers suspected of inappropriate conduct during Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip last year.

The soldiers, who served as staff sergeants in the Givati Brigade during Operation Cast Lead, allegedly forced a 9-year-old Palestinian boy to open a number of bags they thought might contain explosive materials. The bags turned out to be harmless.

The soldiers, who breached the army's rule against using civilians as human shields, will be tried for violating their authority and for inappropriate conduct.

An Israeli military official said the soldiers could face up to three years in Prison.

The incident occurred in the Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood in southern Gaza City in January 2009, toward the end of the war.

The military said it opened the investigation after the incident was brought to its attention by the United Nations, but emphasised it was "completely unrelated" to the UN's Goldstone report.

Court frees convicted soldier

In a separate incident earlier yesterday, the military court ordered the release of Lt. Col. Adam Malul, an IDF officer convicted in December on charges of aggravated assault and conduct unbecoming an officer after hitting a Palestinian in the West Bank.

Malul, who served as a deputy company commander in the Kfir Brigade, was convicted three months ago of aggravated assault in a September 2008 incident in the town of Kadum in the West Bank. Soldiers under his command assaulted Palestinian civilians during a search for suspects in the town.

The court, headed by Lt. Col. Noa Zomer, ruled yesterday that notwithstanding the conviction, the violence was not excessive and his five years of dedicated service should be taken into account.

As such the court concluded that the 64 days he served incarcerated on base, and 32 days under house arrest, were sufficient punishment for his violation.

Shemi Cohen, Malul's defense attorney, said that "the judges rightly balanced the conviction and the appropriate severity of punishment. It was a mistake to slap him with a criminal conviction, and the court should not have become involved in the operational activities in Judea and Samaria. Even if he was mistaken in his judgment, his commander should have backed him."

The Military Prosecution wanted to punish Malul and demote him to private.

Maj. (res.) Shelly Nahum said that the prosecution has not decided yet whether to appeal the sentence.