Israeli military court acquits army captain in death of 13-year-old Palestinian girl

An Israeli military court on Tuesday acquitted an army captain who was charged with intentionally killing a teenage Palestinian girl in the Gaza Strip last year, saying she was already dead when he shot her.

"I'm happy and satisfied that the truth has come to light," the officer, identified as "Captain R," told reporters outside the courtroom in southern Israel. "I hope the army will understand its failure, the failure was not on my part."

He was cleared of charges of illegal use of a firearm, obstruction of justice, exceeding his authority and conduct unbecoming a company commander, the army said.

Soldiers shot 13-year-old schoolgirl Iyman Hams as she approached a military observation post near the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza on Oct. 5, 2004. The soldiers said they thought she was planting a bomb. The girl's family said she was on her way to school.

Then, according to an army indictment, the officer approached the girl's body and fired two more shots _ an illegal practice called "verifying the kill." Palestinian doctors said at least 15 bullets hit the girl.

The defendant maintained throughout that he did not identify the figure on the ground as a child. He said that at the time of the incident he had come under fire from Palestinian gunmen at least 300 yards (meters) away and he shot at the ground to deter the fire. The military said by the time the captain fired, Hams was already dead from the other soldiers' shots.

The girl's family decried the ruling.

"We were not expecting much from this court," her uncle, Mohammed Hams, told The Associated Press. "It is another indication how cheap the life of an innocent girl is to an Israeli judge. I am sure that God will avenge us, because only God will bring down justice upon the Israeli courts."

The court criticized the way the military police handled their investigation and added that disgruntled soldiers had fabricated testimony against the captain in an attempt to have him removed from the company, AP reported. V.A.

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