JERUSALEM, (AP) – Special legal teams will defend Israeli soldiers against potential war crimes charges stemming from civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip, the prime minister said Sunday, promising the country would fully back those who fought in the three-week offensive.
|"I do not know of any military that is more moral, fair and sensitive to civilians' lives"|
The move reflected growing concerns by Israel that officers could be subject to international prosecution, despite the army's claims that Hamas militants caused the civilian casualties by staging attacks from residential areas.
"The state of Israel will fully back those who acted on its behalf," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said. "The soldiers and commanders who were sent on missions in Gaza must know that they are safe from various tribunals."
Speaking at the weekly Cabinet meeting, Olmert said Israel's justice minister would lead a team of senior officials to coordinate the legal defense of anyone involved in the offensive.
"That decision is not going to prevent all these organizations and countries to pursue their efforts through legal means," Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said at talks with European Union foreign ministers in Brussels. "So there is no immunity even if the decision was taken by the Israeli government."
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