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Israel prepares legal defense of soldiers

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  • Law experts preparing answers to possible questions about Israel's Gaza campaign
  • U.N. secretary-general has demanded independent probe into Israeli military
  • Israel launched a 22-day assault on Hamas which killed 1,300 Palestinians
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel's government on Sunday approved a measure that will give legal protection to its military officers if they are accused of war crimes during the Gaza incursion, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said.

A Palestinian rides his bike near a mosque damaged during the attack by Israel on Gaza.

A Palestinian rides his bike near a mosque damaged during the attack by Israel on Gaza.

"The state of Israel will completely back anyone that acted in its name," Olmert said Sunday at the beginning of the weekly Cabinet meeting. "The soldiers and commanders that were sent on missions in Gaza need to know that they are safe from different tribunals.

"Israel will assist them and protect them as they physically protected us during the operation in Gaza," he said.

A team of legal experts, led by Justice Minister Daniel Friedman, will defend Israel's military operation in Gaza, according to Olmert. Friedman and international law experts will formulate answers to possible questions regarding the activity of the Israel Defense Forces that might arise, he said.

The Israeli government -- particularly the Defense and Justice ministries -- is concerned that Israeli military officers could be singled out in future lawsuits alleging human rights violations during Israel's recent offensive against Hamas, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has demanded an independent investigation into Israeli military actions that damaged U.N. facilities in Gaza. Israel is alleged to have used white phosphorous shells which sparked a massive fire at the U.N. humanitarian compound.

The use of white phosphorus is restricted under international law.

Israel launched a 22-day assault on Hamas, the Palestinian movement which controls Gaza, in December. More than 1,300 Palestinians died during the air and ground campaign, and 13 Israelis were killed.


Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire in mid-January, and pulled its troops out by January 21.

It said the operation aimed to stop Palestinian militants from firing rockets into Israel from Gaza.

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