Tel Aviv - Responding to charges that Israeli troops fighting in the recent offensive in the Gaza Strip violated military ethics, Israel Defence Force (IDF) Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said Monday that he did not believe soldiers intentionally harmed Palestinian civilians.
The allegations had been transferred to military's Criminal Investigation Division for investigation, Lieutenant-General Ashkenazi said while visiting an army base.
"I don't believe that soldiers serving in the IDF hurt civilians in cold blood, but we shall wait for the results of the investigation. Isolated cases, if found to have taken place, will be dealt with individually," he said.
"My impression of the (Gaza) operation is that the IDF acts morally in the highest way possible," he added.
The allegations surfaced late last week, after the Ha'aretz daily published testimonies from combatants claiming that soldiers killed Palestinian civilians under permissive rules of engagement and intentionally destroyed their property.
"We need to remember the war zone our soldiers had to face," General Ashkenazi said Monday. "The Hamas chose, and not by chance, to fight in heavily populated areas, turned neighbourhoods into war zones, schools to terror outposts, and public facilities into weapon and munitions storage facilities."
He said Israel "took every measure possible to reduce harm of the innocent" and "scattered leaflets over the Gaza Strip, warned civilians using the Arabic press to stay clear of the fighting areas, called hundreds of thousands of homes and used warning shots as well."
Israel launched its "Operation Cast Lead" on December 27, in response to repeated rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip on its southern towns and villages.
During the campaign, which began with a week of heavy air strikes before the ground troops entered the enclave, some 1417 Palestinians were killed, and over 5,000 were wounded, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said. dpa
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