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Israel probes army killings  South Africa

Jerusalem - Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer on Monday ordered an inquiry into the increasing number of Palestinian civilians, including children, being killed by the army, after a bloody week in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The move came as the Palestinian leadership accused Israel of "state terrorism" and called on the international community, and in particular Washington, to break its silence on Israel's tactics.

There has also been rising criticism of the army leadership in the Israeli press, which has expressed fears that the military's tarnished image could weaken Israel's 23-month struggle against the Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

After dozens of Palestinian civilians were killed in recent weeks during Israeli military operations, Ben Eliezer ordered chief of staff General Moshe Yaalon to produce a report by Friday on the causes of death and means of avoiding them in the future, a defence ministry statement said.

Four killed while walking home

On Sunday, four Palestinians were killed in an army ambush close to a Jewish settlement near the southern West Bank town of Hebron.

Witnesses said the victims were workers walking home from their jobs in a quarry, while the army said they were preparing an attack.

On Saturday night, two children and two teenagers were killed by mistake during an operation targeting a Palestinian militant in the West Bank.

A woman, her two sons and one of her nephews were killed last week in the shelling of a house in a Gaza City neighbourhood.

And on July 22, an Israeli F-16 dropped a one-ton bomb on a heavily-populated neighbourhood, in an operation to kill the Hamas military leader Salah Shehade.

Apart from the leader of the radical group's armed wing and his bodyguard, 16 other people, including nine children, were killed in the raid, drawing a barrage of international condemnations.

Military officials discontented

According to army radio, military officials voiced their "discontent" after Ben Eliezer's office announced the creation of the commission, arguing that its recommendations could restrict the army's operations on the ground.

The radio said some officers warned that any changes in the shooting and arrests procedures could "hamper their mission of preventing terrorist attacks," which have dropped off dramatically in the past month.

Public radio said the probe came against the backdrop of an acute crisis between the defence ministry and the army, the former accusing the latter of not providing the details on the circumstances of civilians deaths soon enough to protect Israel's image abroad.

Playing down the army's recent string of blunders, former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said: "The army isn't trigger happy. The Palestinian terrorists imposing war on us and hiding behind civilians are."

Meretz Avshalom, an MP from the left-wing Meretz party, slammed the former premier's comments and stressed that in recent operations "military officials did not give enough consideration to the presence of civilians near the targets."

Girl wounded

Late on Monday, a 12-year-old girl, Marwa Kayed, was seriously wounded after Israeli soldiers opened fire on stone-throwing demonstrators close to her home in the northern West Bank city of Nablus, Palestinian officials said.

Out of the 49 Palestinians killed by the Israeli army in August, 30 were civilians, according to Palestinian medical and human rights organisations quoted by the Haaretz daily.

Struggling to contain Palestinian attacks, Israel has stepped up a number of controversial methods, such as demolishing the houses of militants' relatives, threatening to deport them to the Gaza Strip and using civilians as human shields, although the Supreme Court has banned the latter practice.

The army demolished six more Palestinians houses in Yatta village near the southern West Bank city of Hebron because they overlooked a road used by Jewish settlers, the mayor of Yatta, Mohammad Shatat, told reporters.

Lebanon trouble too

And the Israeli Supreme Court will rule on Tuesday morning on the expulsion to the Gaza Strip of three relatives of West Bank militants, the government said.

Meanwhile, an Israeli soldier died Monday from wounds sustained during intensive shelling last week by the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah across the northern border with Israel.

The sector had been quiet for months before the attack, which prompted retaliatory Israeli air raids and stern warnings to Syria, which is the effective power broker in Lebanon and which Israel accuses of being the real power behind Hezbollah.

US Mideast envoy David Satterfield met on Monday in Damascus with Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara and warned against an escalation in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"Our views are that all sides should do everything possible to ensure that calm prevails, to avoid those provocations and escalations and that's the US message," Satterfield told reporters after the meeting. 

Sapa (South Africa Press Association) -AFP

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