Israeli soldier agrees to plea deal in shooting deaths of Gaza women
JERUSALEM -- An Israeli soldier who was indicted two years ago in the fatal shooting of two Gaza Strip women during the 22-day military offensive Operation Cast Lead has agreed to a plea bargain in which he will serve 45 days in jail for illegal use of a weapon, Israeli Army Radio reported Sunday.
The soldier, who was not identified, could have faced up to 20 years in prison on the manslaughter charge.
His case was one of a handful of criminal prosecutions -- and one of the most serious -- to arise from Israel's conduct during the 2008-2009 offensive against Hamas-controlled Gaza, an operation aimed at stopping militants from firing rockets into southern Israel.
The incident was among those mentioned in the United Nations' Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilians during the conflict.
Majda Abu Hajaj, 35, and her mother, Raya Salama Abu Hajaj, 64, were killed as they fled fighting with a group of civilians carrying a white flag, witnesses at the time reported.
Israeli human rights groups viewed the case against the soldier as an acknowledgment by the military that at least one of its soldiers deliberately fired at civilians.
The soldier admitted during a preliminary investigation that he fired his weapon into the group without permission, hitting one of the people, according to Israel media. He said he first fired warning shots and feared militants hiding among the group.
His attorneys later argued that there was no conclusive proof that his client killed either of the women.
-- Edmund Sanders