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Report claims Israelis used Palestinians as human shields

  • Story Highlights
  • Israeli advocacy group bases report on testimony of unnamed Israeli soldiers
  • Soldiers say they used civilians as shields, phosphorus in crowded areas
  • Soldiers referring to operation in Gaza; between 1,100 and 1,400 Palestinians killed
  • Israeli military calls report slanderous, lacking in credibility
From Kevin Flower and Paula Hancocks
CNN
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A report from an Israeli advocacy group based on what it says is the testimony of several unnamed Israeli soldiers accuses the Israeli military of intentionally putting Palestinian civilians at risk during its recent operation in Gaza.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, seen in file photo, says Israel has " the most moral army in the world."

Palestinian Majid Abed Raboh, left, shows Wednesday how he says Israeli soldiers used him as a human shield.

The report, released Wednesday from a group called "Breaking the Silence" -- which includes former Israeli soldiers -- has been dismissed by the Israeli military as slanderous.

In the 110-page report, the group said some of the 26 soldiers interviewed said they used Palestinians as human shields during the military's more than two-week long ground operation in Gaza earlier this year.

"In some cases a civilian would be forced to walk in front of soldier while the soldier places his gun barrel on the civilian's shoulder," the report states.

Other soldiers talk about destroying buildings even though the structures posed no direct threat. They also said that white phosphorus was used in densely populated areas and describe the rules of engagement as "permissive."

Phosphorus shells can be used to create a smokescreen for troops. In creating the diversion, the element ignites when exposed to oxygen and can cause severe burns. International law calls on militaries to limit the use white phosphorus in civilian areas.

Other organizations, including the United Nations' Human Rights Council, Amnesty International and the U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights, have criticized the Israeli military's conduct in Gaza. Israel has questioned the legitimacy of those claims, as well.

The stories presented by Breaking the Silence are anonymous accounts which CNN cannot independently verify. The group said that the soldiers were not willing to speak with the media.

In response to the report's allegations, the Israeli military said it complied with international law on all fronts.

The advocacy group said many of the soldiers interviewed in its report are still serving and fear repercussions if they reveal their identity, and they did not take their complaints up the chain of command.

The Israeli military has rejected the report, saying the anonymous nature of the testimonies means they lack credibility.

"There are no factual details, no places, no names of incidents in specific houses on a specific date," military spokesman Lt. Col. Avital Liebovitch said. "I would be more than happy to be provided with these details and I will be able to investigate them."

The Israeli military conducted its own investigation into soldiers' actions during Operation Cast Lead, its 22-day military offensive in January against the militant group Hamas in an effort to end ongoing rocket attacks.

It found that Israeli forces "operated in accordance with international law" although there were a few incidents in which "intelligence or operational errors" occurred.

Fighting left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead according to officials in Gaza, while Israel put that death toll closer to 1,100, saying more than 70 percent of those killed were Hamas militants. Thirteen Israelis were killed during the operation, including three civilians.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, responding to the report which was widely publicized in Israel, said the criticism was "misplaced and misdirected."

"If someone has a criticism, or information or conclusions about IDF (Israel Defense Forces) actions, they should bring them to me, as minister of defense of the state of Israel, and to the Israeli government that instructed the IDF to restore quiet to the communities in the south," Barak said.

"The IDF is the most moral army in the world and it operates according to the highest ethical code."

CNN did independently obtain corroborating detail on one anonymous claim in the report.

Gaza resident Shafiq Daher told CNN earlier this week that he was used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers during the recent Gaza military operation. His description of his experience closely matched an account given in the Breaking the Silence report.

"He was holding with all his strength like this and with his heavy machine gun on the other shoulder," said Daher, who demonstrated how the soldier walked behind him as they approached his neighbors' homes.

The Israeli military would not comment on whether Palestinians were used as human shields in Gaza, saying only that there are dozens of ongoing internal investigations into individual soldier conduct.

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Daher, who lives in Jabaliya outside Gaza City, said he was forced to search his neighbors' homes this way for about a week, under heavy fire. He said he was also given a hammer and told to break through his neighbors' walls.

"I felt like a dead man walking," he said. "I was walking and praying to God and thought this is what death is like."

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