The Givati Brigade's commander during Operation Cast Lead
in Gaza was questioned Thursday on his alleged approval of an Air Force bombing of a building, which left 21 members of the al-Samoni family dead.
Colonel Ilan Malka, who served as the brigade commander during the Israeli operation in the Strip, which began in December 2008, was said to have been questioned under caution for the first time by the Investigating Military Police.
The investigation into the incident was launched several weeks ago and was ordered by Military Judge Advocate General Brigadier-General Avi Mandelblit, after he reviewed the operational inquiry conducted by the Israel Defense Forces and concluded that the matter's criminal aspect should be looked into as well.
Colonel Malka's promotion to the rank of brigadier-general was put on hold due to the investigation. He currently serves as the assistant chief of staff for operations at the Central Command.
Malka was said to have told his investigators that he was unaware of the civilians' presence in the building when he approved the bombing. He said he learned that the Palestinian family had been inside the structure only later, adding that he had committed a number of operations before the bombing to ensure that there were no civilians in the building.
It is unclear whether Malka will be questioned again. Meanwhile, the Investigating Military Police is collecting testimonies from various elements, including within the army, about the incident. The affair was mentioned in the UN report
authored by Judge Richard Goldstone, who accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza.
Malka was reprimanded for violating the rules in a separate incident which took place during Operation Cast Lead.
According to a senior IDF officer, "He is a professional and experienced officer, whose work has been flawless before and after the operation. He must not be turned into a scapegoat. It's very attractive dealing with this affair, but we can also review hundreds of operational accomplishments he was involved in and we must not forget that."
The al-Samouni family, which lived in Gaza City's Zaitun neighborhood, suffered the biggest number of victims during Operation Cast Lead, with 29 of its members killed
and 45 injured.
The family members submitted an NIS 851million damages claim against then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert,
Defense Minister Ehud Barak
and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
"I hope every family and every home in Israel experience my family's feeling of orphanhood, destruction and killing," 22-year-old Faraj al-Samouni said after the operation. "This is the prayer we all say. This killing has led to hatred which no talks of peace could heal."