Amos Harel
June 16, 2010 - 12:00am

A Israeli soldier is to face charges over the shooting of two Palestinian women during Operation Cast lead in Gaza a year and a half ago, the army said on Wednesday.

The solider will be charged with opening fire on a 64-year-old Raya Salma Abu Hajjaj and her 35-year-old daughter Majda in disregard of the IDF's rules of engagement.

Chief Army Prosecutor Avihai Mandelblit will on June 22 hold a hearing to determine the exact charges the soldier will face.

The unusually strong phrasing of the summons to the hearing, which includes the word 'killing', leaves open the possibility of a manslaughter charge, or a lesser charge of negligence.

The soldier, identified only as First Seargent S., said during an army investigation that he had fired at the women's legs only when he believed troops' lives to be at risk and had not intended to kill them.

But Palestinian eyewitnesses to the shooting south of Gaza city on January 4, 2009, said the women were among a group of civilians waving white flags.

Sergeant S. was part of a combined force of Givati and armored brigades which had entered a built up area when it identified a group of around 30 Palestinians walking towards them, apparently after being ordered by the IDF to evacuate their homes in a neighboring area.

A deputy battalion commander ordered troops to fire warning shots towards the group - but not at them. Soon after the order was given, two Givati brigade soldiers joined the troops. One of them, S., opened fire, killing the two women.

Investigators found that the battalion commander had acted properly. The case is expected to center on how much S. knew of the circumstances and the commander's orders when he arrived at the scene.

The fatal incident was first investigated following reports by B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, and was later mentioned in a UN report by former South African jurist Richard Goldstone, which accused both Israel and Hamas with war crimes.

If S. is charged, he will be the third soldier to be tried for offenses during the Gaza war.

Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during Israel's three-week war on Hamas in late 2008 and early 2009.

Earlier this year, Israel submitted its response to the UN report. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said at the time:

"This report stresses that the IDF is like no other army, both from a moral standpoint as well as from a professional standpoint."

Barak said: "All of the soldiers and officers whom we sent to battle need to know that the state of Israel stands behind them even on the day after."


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