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Israel reprimands officers over Gaza attack

By Jonathan Rugman

Updated on 01 February 2010

Israel says it has reprimanded two of its high ranking army officers for authorising an attack on the UN building in Gaza during the israel-Gaza conflict at the start of 2009. Jonathan Rugman reports.

UN under attack (Credit: Reuters)

During the strike on 15 January 2009, part of the Israeli army's Operation Cast Lead, the UN complex in Gaza was shelled with white phosphorous bombs. International laws ban the use of white phosphorus in cities.

Today's announcement constitutes the first time that Israel has admitted any high-level wrongdoing during the conflict.

Jonathan Rugman said: "Today we witnessed a rare and official admission by Israel of potentialy lethal wrongdoing during last year's Gaza war.

"The admission comes buried 30-odd pages into a 46-page report the Israeli Foreign Ministry sent the UN."

But there was no admission from Israel that controversial white phosphorous shells were used in the attack.

It is part of Israel's official response to last year's UN inquiry, which accused its armed forces of war crimes.

It has been reported that Israel has given the UN $10.5m (£6.6m) to the UN to repair its Gaza complex. The Goldstone report said Israel and Hamas had both been involved in war crimes.

The UN General Assembly has told Israel and Hamas they each have until 5 February this year to probe their behaviour during the Israel's Operation Cast Lead, which started in December 2008.

Israel said in the Goldstone report: "Several artillery shells were fired in violation of the rules of engagement prohibiting use of such artillery near populated areas."

But the army did not specifically say its rules of engagement were breached through the use of white phosphorus. The two men were charged with "exceeding their authority" in allowing this artillery to be used in the strike.

It has been reported that the officers, Gaza Division Commander Brigadier General Eyal Eisenberg and Givati Brigade Commander Col Ilan Malka, have kept their positions in the Israeli army.

Reuters has reported that Brigadier General Eisenberg remains in charge of Israel's Gaza division, but Colonel Malka has been transferred to the West Bank but retains the same rank in the army.

The Israeli government has said that in the case of Brigadier General Eisenberg and Colonel Malka, they were only reprimanded and no criminal investigation was undertaken because there was no evidence for a criminal investigation.

Jon Snow spoke to Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli government.

Mark Regev said: "As career military officers they now have a reprimand in their personal files and as you know for a military officer that's an important matter. They obviously don’t like it.

"But this was a disciplinary action taken because they did exceed their authority in the operation - used artillery when it shouldn't have been used."

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