Israeli army censures officer over "no mercy" call

Wed Jan 28, 2009 7:13am EST

JERUSALEM Jan 28 (Reuters) - The Israeli military said on Wednesday it had reprimanded an officer behind the distribution of a booklet during the Gaza war that advised soldiers against showing any mercy to enemies.

An Israeli rights group, Yesh Din, called on Monday for the dismissal of the chief military rabbi, Brigadier-General Avichai Rontzki, saying he had authorised the booklet, written by a civilian rabbi who advocates Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

But the military, in a statement, said Rontzki had not seen the booklet before its distribution and had not approved it.

The booklet told soldiers to show no mercy because they were fighting a "cruel enemey" and "murderers". Israel launched the 22-day offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with the declared aim of ending cross-border rocket attacks.

In its statement, the military said the officer responsible for distributing the booklet was "severely reprimanded", but gave no further details.

The statement described the publication's distribution as an isolated incident stemming from the intense pressure of working around the clock during combat operations.

Yesh Din said the booklet's message could have been interpreted by soldiers as a call to act outside the confines of the international laws of warfare.

"Rontzki views these deviations as being very serious, in particular due to the fact that they may cause divisions within the IDF (Israel Defence Forces)," the military statement said.

Some 1,300 Palestinians, including 700 civilians, were killed during the military campaign, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip. Israel put its own deathtoll at 10 soldiers and three civilians. (Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Louise Ireland)



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