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Commander questioned over Gaza killings

Oct. 22, 2010 11:02 A.M. (Updated: Oct. 23, 2010 8:04 P.M.)
TEL AVIV (Ma'an) -- An Israeli army commander was questioned Thursday over his involvement in the killing of 21 members of a Gaza family during Israel's last war on Gaza, Israeli press said.

Colonel Ilan Malka told Military Police that he was unaware of a civilian presence in the Samouni household when he approved an airstrike on the home on 5 January 2009, the Israeli news site Ynet said. The bombing killed 21 members of the same family and injured a further 19.

The initial investigation conducted by the Israeli military found nothing unusual about the attack. A new probe was launched after the report issued by the UN fact-finding mission headed by jurist Richard Goldstone found that Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians in the attack.

Soldiers had ordered around 100 Samouni family members to stay in the house the day before the airstrike.

"Everything indicates that the Israeli forces knew that there were about 100 civilians in the house. Indeed, the families had asked to be allowed to leave the area towards a safer place, but had been ordered to stay in Wa’el al-Samouni’s house. The house must have been under constant observation by the Israeli soldiers, who had complete control over the area at the time," the report found.

Malka, who authorized the bombing, was questioned under caution for the first time on Thursday, Ynet said. Since the war, which Israel launched in December 2008, Malka was promoted to assistant chief of staff for operations at the Central Command, Ynet said, adding that his promotion to brigadier-general had been put on hold.

An unnamed security source told the Israeli daily Haaretz that the probe into this particular incident had raised "explosive and highly sensitive material," which could call Israel's rules of engagement into question.

The military police investigation was opposed by at least two senior Israeli army officials, including Commander-General Yoav Galant and General Avi Mizrahi, Haaretz reported. Further, on reviewing video footage of the killing, Mizrahi said he "would have done the same," the report said.

Wa'el Samouni, whose house was targeted by the missile strike, told the UN mission, "The entire Samouni family was destroyed. Their land was churned. We have no trees left. What we are asking for is one thing, one question. Please answer this question. Why did the Israelis do this to us? They killed our children, our women, and once you have lost your loved ones, what can you do in life. Why did you do this? Why did the Israelis do this?"

No decision has been made on whether to charge officers, Haaretz said.

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