Israel sniper to get 45 days over Gaza war shooting

An Israeli soldier implicated in the killing of two Gaza women carrying a white flag faces a 45-day jail term under a plea bargain approved by a military court on Sunday, local media said.

The sniper, identified by Israeli media as "staff sergeant S," was charged with manslaughter in 2010 over the fatal shooting of an unnamed individual, which Palestinian witnesses linked to the killing of 64-year-old Riyeh Abu Hajaj and her daughter Majda Abu Hajaj, 37, during Israel's "Cast Lead" Gaza offensive.

But the Israeli military said the charge had on Sunday been reduced from manslaughter to using a weapon illegally.

"Following a mediation process and upon examination of the evidence with the recommendation of the military court, both sides have reached a plea bargain in which the indictment will be adjusted, and he will be convicted of using a weapon illegally," a military statement said.

Under the deal, "S" would be jailed for 45 days, media reports said.

Israeli rights group B'Tselem said that if the military had been unable to prove that "S" fired the fatal shots at the women, who were carrying a white flag when they were killed, it must reopen its investigation and find the guilty party.

"If the military prosecution accepted the claim brought by the soldier's lawyers, that there is no connection between the shooting he admitted to, and the killing of the Palestinian mother and daughter, this means that the investigation into this incident was never completed," the group said in a statement.

"B'Tselem demands that the Military Police investigation unit reopen the file."

According to B'Tselem, on 4 January, 2009, the Abu Hajaj family evacuated their home after it was hit by an Israeli tank shell.

"When they saw tanks about 150 meters from them, two of them waved the [white] flags, and the children in the group sat on the ground," B'Tselem said.

"Suddenly, and without warning, shots were fired at the residents, killing Majda Abu Hajaj on the spot. Her mother, Riyeh Abu Hajaj, was severely wounded by the gunfire," it said. She later died of her wounds.

The incident was one of those raised in the UN Goldstone report on alleged war crimes by both Israel and Gaza's rulers, the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, during the offensive aimed at halting rocket fire from Gaza.

More than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the conflict.

The army dismissed dozens of other alleged incidents because "according to the rules of warfare, no faults were found in the forces' actions."

In other cases, the army said there was "not enough evidence proving that legal measures needed to be taken," in a statement issued when the sniper was charged in 2010.

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