Israel convicts troops who made boy search for bombs

by (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2010. Click For Restrictions. | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Sunday, 3 October 2010 01:41 GMT

KASTINA, Israel, Oct 3 (Reuters) - An Israeli court-martial found two soldiers guilty on Sunday of forcing a nine-year-old Palestinian boy to search for suspected booby-traps on their behalf during the 2008-2009 war in the Gaza Strip.

The conviction, which could carry jail time, was Israel&${esc.hash}39;s latest legal reckoning over a three-week offensive that enjoyed domestic support but was widely censured abroad for its toll on Palestinian civilians.

The two infantry sergeants helped seize control of an apartment building in the Gaza City suburb of Tel Al-Hawa district on Jan. 15, 2009 while under gun and rocket fire from guerrillas, according to a summary of the verdict.

Rounding up residents, they came across bags in a bathroom and ordered a nine-year-old boy from the group of civilians to check if they had been rigged with explosives. "The boy, who feared for his fate and was under the stress of the situation, wet his pants," the three-judge panel wrote in the verdict. "The court has noted that, unlike the soldiers, the child was, naturally, bereft of any form of protection."

The boy opened a bag belonging to his family, but when he failed to open another, the soldiers pulled him back and shot at it, endangering everyone present, the verdict said. The boy was later returned to his family unharmed.

The verdict made no mention of any munitions being found at the scene. Prior to Israel&${esc.hash}39;s launch of the Gaza war on Dec. 27, 2008, Hamas and other Palestinian factions said they had extensively booby trapped the narrow coastal territory.

The Tel Al-Hawa incident recalled a once common but now banned Israeli army practice of "neighbouring" -- using Palestinian bystanders to knock on the doors of suspected militants to reduce the chances of soldiers coming under fire.

The two sergeants were found guilty of reckless endangerment and conduct unbecoming. A military spokesman said he expected their sentencing to take place in the coming weeks.

Several of the soldiers&${esc.hash}39; former comrades attending the court at an army base in southern Kastina wore shirts with the slogan "We are victims of Goldstone" -- a reference to South African jurist Richard Goldstone, who wrote a U.N. report pointing to possible war crimes by Israel and Gaza&${esc.hash}39;s Hamas rulers.

Both sides have denied deliberate wrongdoing. (Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Peter Graff)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.