The Israeli military has closed its swift criminal investigation into volatile allegations from its own soldiers that army units murdered Palestinian civilians during the recent 22-day military offensive in Gaza.
In a detailed statement, the Israeli military said the charges made by soldiers during a seminar at a military prep school were either rumors or embellished tales for an impressionable audience.
"It is unfortunate that none of the speakers at the conference was careful to be accurate in the depiction of his claims, and even more so that they chose to present various incidents of a severe nature, despite not personally witnessing and knowing much about them," said Avichai Mendelblit, the Israeli military's advocate general. "It seems that it will be difficult to evaluate the damage done to the image and morals of the IDF and its soldiers, who had participated in Operation Cast Lead, in Israel and the world."
Israeli human rights groups questioned the findings and renewed their call for an independent investigation of Israel's actions in Gaza.
Israel's Haaretz newspaper, which first published the damaging transcript, also questioned the swift investigation.
"There is something soothing in the exhaustive investigation by the military advocate general," journalist Amos Harel wrote today in Haaretz. "The IDF emerges from it (and from the Gaza Strip) as pure as snow. Yet at the same time there is a disconcerting message emanating from the closure of the investigation, one which, at least according to Brig. Gen. Mendelblit, a group of combat soldiers and officers serving in some of the finest units in the IDF has proven to be nothing but a bunch of liars and exaggerating storytellers, men who have not uttered one truthful word."
The swift and limited investigation is unlikely to end international calls for a more thorough probe of Israel's military actions in Gaza.
The probe examined only two specific allegations made by the soldiers.
The Israeli military said it spoke to the soldiers who made the explosive charges and that the soldiers told investigators that they had no first-hand knowledge of the potentially criminal incidents.
But there are still scores of allegations of wrongdoing that have yet to be addressed.
Last week, the AP's Karin Laub reported on a case in Gaza that seemed to mirror the allegations made by the soldiers.
The story uncovered a case in which a Palestinian woman and 2-year-old child were shot and killed, apparently by Israeli forces, after being ordered to leave their Gaza neighborhood.
Yesterday, Maj. Yehoshua Gurtler, a young attorney with the IDF who briefed the media on the investigation, said he had no knowledge of the AP story.
In a February story on Israeli use of Palestinians as human shields in Gaza, McClatchy reported on another incident in which two independent Palestinian eyewitnesses said that a woman was shot, apparently by Israeli forces, after they were ordered to leave their Gaza neighborhood during the military offensive.
The IDF says it is still looking into other allegations of wrongdoing and that some soldiers have been disciplined.