JERUSALEM, Nov 21 (Reuters) - An Israeli court-martial handed down suspended jail sentences on Sunday to two soldiers who forced a Palestinian boy to search for suspected booby-traps on their behalf during the Gaza Strip war
, Army Radio said.
The ruling meant that the troops, who were last month found guilty of reckless endangerment and conduct unbecoming, would go free but be subject to a minimum 3-month stint in the military stockade should they commit another crime.
The two soldiers had helped seize control of a building in the Gaza City suburb of Tel Al-Hawa district on Jan. 15, 2009, as Israel
pressed a ground offensive against Hamas
Rounding up residents, they ordered a nine-year-old boy to check baggage for hidden explosives, the Israeli verdict said.
When the boy failed to open one bag, the soldiers pulled him back and shot at it, endangering everyone present, the verdict said. The boy was later returned to his family unharmed, and the verdict made no mention of any booby-traps being found.
The court in southern Kastina also demoted the two infantry conscripts from first-sergeant to sergeant, Army Radio said, adding that despite what it described as a light punishment they would have criminal records once returned to civilian life.
Lawyers and friends of the two soldiers had argued that they were being unfairly singled out by the Israeli military, which has worked to counter foreign accusations that troops in Gaza had committed war crimes as part of a culture of impunity. (Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Myra MacDonald)