BBC World News
November 21, 2010 - 1:00am

Two Israeli soldiers convicted of using a Palestinian child as a human shield during an offensive in Gaza in 2009 have received suspended sentences and been demoted.

The soldiers had forced the nine-year-old boy to open suspected booby-trapped bags at gunpoint.

It occurred during Israel's three-week conflict with Hamas, which rules Gaza.

It was reportedly the first such conviction in Israel, where the use of civilians as human shields is banned.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said the pair will be on probation for two years, AFP news agency reported.

During the soldiers' trial in October, the boy, Majid Rabah, said he feared for his life.

"I thought they would kill me. I became very scared and wet my pants," he said in an affidavit.

Majid Rabah's mother, Fatma, criticised the sentence as too lenient.

"It is completely unfair, because it was supposed to be more than this. Honestly, the fear that we felt in those moments, the fear that came after that and the negative side-effects to the child - [the soldiers] deserve more."

The soldiers' lawyer, Ilan Katz, however, said the sentence was appropriate.

"The fact that the court didn't decide to put the two accused in the prison speaks clearly that even the military court didn't think that in this case it was right to make a trial against the two soldiers because what they have done, they have done during a hard war when their life was under a big and serious danger."

Israel says it launched its offensive in December 2008 following a barrage of Palestinian rocket attacks from the territory.

Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during 22 days of fighting.


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