JERUSALEM — Israel's military closed an investigation Monday into allegations that army snipers killed two women and two children during its incursion into the Gaza Strip, saying that soldiers making the claims had witnessed no such shootings.
The stories caused an outcry in Israel and abroad after Israeli newspapers published them March 19. In one case, the alleged victim was an elderly woman walking on a road; in the other, it was a woman and her two children who turned the wrong way after troops had ordered them out of their home.
Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit, the chief military prosecutor, announced the criminal inquiry after the soldiers' accounts surfaced. On Monday, he said he had decided not to file charges because "crucial components of their descriptions were based on hearsay and not supported by specific personal knowledge."
The soldiers, who spoke last month in a meeting at a military preparatory school, made remarks that harmed the army's image, the prosecutor said.
Israeli human-rights advocates called the investigation a whitewash. They said the military has yet to respond to abundant evidence presented weeks ago in other alleged cases of unwarranted killings of civilians during the winter assault.
"The speedy closing of the investigation immediately raises suspicion that (it) was merely the army's attempt to wipe its hand of all blame for illegal activity," said a statement by nine Israeli rights groups. They called for an investigation by a nonpartisan body.
Israeli officials concede that the army used overwhelming force in the mostly urban battlefield to halt rocket fire by Hamas militants. But they dispute the claim that most of the dead were civilians.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights published a list of 1,417 Palestinians killed during the 22-day assault in December and January and identified 926 of them as civilians. The army issued its own count — 1,116 Palestinians dead, 295 of them civilians. It did not provide names.
Thirteen Israelis were killed in the conflict, including civilians hit by Palestinian rockets.