Israel Questions Soldiers Over Gaza Deaths as Some Seek Legal Counsel

IDF examining cases in which soldiers are suspected of violating rules of engagement, as well as specific cases such as deaths of Palestinian photojournalist Yaser Murtaja and teenager Mohammed Ayoub

Palestinian demonstrators stand near the border fence with Israel near the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis during ongoing demonstrations on the Gaza-Israel border on April 22, 2018.  / AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS

The Israeli Defense Forces' official inquiry into the deaths of protestors along the Gaza border over the last month has begun, with officials questioning soldiers who were stationed at the Gaza fence during the demonstrations.

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The IDF has yet to state how many of the shootings are under investigation as part of what it termed the General Staff inquiry.

The investigators, headed by Brig. Gen. Moti Baruch, are examining cases in which the soldiers are suspected of violating the rules of engagement, as well as specific and sensitive cases such as the death of Palestinian photojournalist Yaser Murtaja, who was shot while wearing a “Press” vest, and the killing of 15-year-old Mohammed Ayoub last Friday.

Cases in which armed terrorists were killed on their way to attack Israeli soldiers and positions will not be investigated. The army's southern command will conduct operational inquiries into those cases.

Medics carry the 29-year-old Saadi Abu Taha, who was wounded during clashes with Israeli forces on April 20, 2018

The investigators will not only examine the shootings during the protests but also the preparedness of the troops. Training and exercises undergone by the soldiers will be examined, in addition to the question of whether the IDF deployed the soldiers along the border fence only after they understood their mission.

Business as usual?

Even though the IDF is treating the probe as routine, in the field things are slightly different. Some of the soldiers and officers called in for questioning, as well as others who expect to be questioned later, have sought legal counsel. In some cases, it is the commanders in the field who have asked for legal advice in order to inform soldiers of their rights and the status of the official inquiry.

According to military regulations, the findings of the General Staff inquiry are meant only for internal IDF use and may not be used against any soldier or officer in an indictment, nor if Military Police opens their own criminal investigation into the matter.

The findings will be provided to the Military Advocate General’s Office, which will then decide whether to open a criminal investigation.

If criminal investigations are initiated, the number of soldiers seeking legal help is expected to rise significantly.

On Monday, two Palestinians succumbed to wounds sustained during Friday's protests, reported the Health Ministry in Gaza. Both died as a result of gunshot wounds, bringing the overall death toll of Palestinians during the March of Return protests to 39.