Sunday, January 25, 2009

Israel Promises Troops Legal Backing over Gaza War Crimes.

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - International calls to investigate Israel over alleged war crimes in the Gaza Strip prompted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday to promise military personnel state protection from foreign prosecution.

"The commanders and soldiers sent to Gaza should know they are safe from various tribunals and Israel will assist them on this front and defend them, just as they protected us with their bodies during the Gaza operation," Olmert said.

Last week, the military censor ordered local and foreign media in Israel to blur the faces of army commanders in photos and video footage of the Gaza war for fear they could be identified and arrested while traveling abroad.

Israeli media reports said the military had been advising its top brass to think twice about visiting Europe.

Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, Olmert said Israel's justice minister would consult with the country's top legal experts and find "answers to possible questions relating to the Israeli military's activities" during the 22-day war.

Some 1,300 Palestinians, including at least 700 civilians, were killed, medical officials said, in the offensive Israel launched in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with the declared aim of ending cross-border rocket attacks.

The civilian deaths sparked public outcry abroad and prompted senior U.N. officials to demand independent investigations into whether Israel committed war crimes.

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