Monday Feb. 1, 2010 4:46 PM (EST+7)
JERUSALEM, Feb 1 (Reuters) - The senior Israeli field officer in the Gaza war has been reprimanded over artillery shelling in a heavily populated area that hit a United Nations compound during the fighting, military officials said on Monday.
The officer, Brigadier-General Eyal Eisenberg, still heads Israel's Gaza division, one official said. Colonel Ilan Malka, an infantry brigade commander also disciplined over the incident, now runs military operations in the West Bank.
The United Nations has said some of the shells that damaged a U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) compound on Jan. 15, 2009 contained incendiary white phosphorus, whose use, condemned by human rights groups, has been called legal by Israel.
Israel referred to disciplinary action against two senior officers, but did not name them, in a response it submitted on Friday to a U.N. report accusing Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip of war crimes. The military later identified the two officers as Eisenberg and Malka.
Referring to the UNRWA incident, the Israeli document said several artillery shells were fired in violation of the rules of engagement prohibiting use of such artillery near populated areas.
Based on these findings, the Commander of the Southern Command disciplined a brigadier-general and a colonel for exceeding their authority in a manner that jeopardized the lives of others, it said.
The international convention on weapons prohibits the use of incendiary weapons against civilians and their use against military targets within concentrations of civilians, except when the targets are clearly separated from civilians and all precautions are taken to avoid civilian casualties.
Israel has paid the United Nations $10.5 million for damage to U.N. property during the offensive Israeli forces launched in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 with the declared aim of curbing cross-border rocket attacks.
Israeli officials have called the damage to U.N. facilities unintentional, saying troops had responded to Palestinian fire.
Israeli forces killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, including civilians and Hamas fighters, in the 22-day war. Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians were killed.
Israel had boycotted the U.N. investigation led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone and called his report, issued in September, unbalanced.
But it issued its Gaza Operation Investigations: An Update document on Friday, facing a threat by Goldstone to refer war crimes suspicions to an international court unless Israel and the Palestinians launched investigations.
Israel does not need any admonition from the international community, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Reuters on Monday.
We keep our high standards on morality, and the fact that we took disciplinary action against very high and senior officers is just the proof, he said, speaking in English.
The Israeli report to the United Nations said the military had launched 36 criminal investigations into the conduct of Israeli forces, resulting so far in one conviction. That soldier was jailed for stealing a credit card from a Palestinian home.
The Military Advocate-General has exercised his discretion to close 7 criminal investigations without charges because the complainants refused to give testimony and/or there was insufficient evidence of a criminal violation, the document said.
The remaining 28 investigations are ongoing. (Additional reporting by Dan Williams, Editing by Angus MacSwan)