An 11-year-old boy was used as a human shield by Israeli troops during their 22-day offensive in Gaza – including when they came under fire – according to a report by UN human rights experts published yesterday.
The report says that on 15 January, as Israeli tanks moved into Tel el Hawa in Gaza City, forces moved into a building from which families had been evacuated with personal belongings.
The 11-year-old boy was told to open the bags – one of which had a lock which a soldier shot at, though without injuring the boy, the report said. The boy was then ordered to walk in front of a group of soldiers as they moved through the neighbourhood, it added.
When the soldiers arrived at the headquarters of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, the boy was made to enter first and when the patrol was later shot at as it moved through the streets, "the boy remained in front of the group". He was released when the unit arrived at al-Quds hospital.
The report said that the incident "appears to be in direct contravention to a 2005 Israeli High Court ruling on the illegality of the use of human shields".
Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Secretary General's special envoy for the protection of children in conflict, also accused the forces of shooting Palestinian children, bulldozing a home with a woman and child still inside, and shelling a building they had ordered civilians into a day earlier.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said troops were instructed not to make use of the civilian population. A spokesman said that it would investigate any detailed claims the UN put to them, which it had not yet done. But it added: "The forces did the maximum to prevent harm to Palestinians despite the extensive use Hamas made of them as human shields."
Responding to complaints by Israeli soldiers that permissive rules of engagement allowed the shooting of unarmed Palestinian civilians during the operation, Israel's military chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazy said the IDF awaited a criminal investigation ordered after the complaints were made public "but my impression is that the IDF acted morally and ethically".