JERUSALEM Israel's chief military chaplain distributed a booklet to soldiers fighting in the Gaza conflict containing a rabbinical edict against showing mercy to enemies, an Israeli human rights group said on Monday.
The group, Yesh Din, which says it is dedicated to defending human rights in territory occupied by Israel, called on Defense Minister Ehud Barak to dismiss the chief chaplain, Rabbi Avichai Rontzki, who holds the rank of brigadier general.
A booklet handed out by Rontzki during the offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip quotes an ultra-nationalist Israeli rabbi saying that showing mercy toward a "cruel enemy" was "terribly immoral" and advising soldiers they were fighting "murderers."
Yesh Din said the rabbi's message could have been interpreted by soldiers as a call to act outside the confines of the international laws of warfare.
International calls to investigate Israel over alleged war crimes during its 22-day offensive against Gaza prompted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday to promise military personnel state protection from foreign prosecution.
Israel faced global criticism over its assaults in densely populated areas of Gaza, where medical officials put the Palestinian death toll at 1,300, including some 700 civilians.
Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians were killed during the campaign Israel launched with the declared aim of ending Hamas rocket attacks on its south.
Hamas clerics have often called for Israeli blood to be spilled. The Islamist militant group carried out dozens of suicide bombings in Israel before and during a Palestinian uprising that erupted in 2000.
An Israeli spokesman had no immediate comment on the booklet, written by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, a main figure in the Jewish settler movement in the occupied West Bank. A photo of its title page, appeared in Israel's left-leaning Haaretz newspaper on Monday.
(Writing by Joseph Nasr, Editing by Katie Nguyen)