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Four Israeli soldiers sentenced in beating case

JERUSALEM -- Four Israeli soldiers convicted of beating a Gaza Strip Palestinian who later died of his injuries were demoted and sentenced Wednesday to prison terms of up to two months.

A military court convicted the three soldiers from the Givati Brigade Oct. 1 of assaulting Ayad Akal, 21, who was beaten and died the same day during the first months of the Palestinian uprising. Their commanding officer was convicted of sanctioning the beatings.

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The year-long court martial, known as the 'Givati II' trial, raised questions about the orders given by senior officers to use force on Arab demonstrators and whom to hold responsible for the excesses that occurred.

The 'Givati II' defendants claimed they were following orders given by senior officers to beat Palestinians. In the sentence, the three military judges said they wanted to believe that the incident was 'not characteristic but a solitary case.'

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On Feb. 7, 1988, soldiers, including three of the accused, were convicted of beating Akal at his home in the Bureij refugee camp. He and his brother were then taken to a secluded olive grove where they were severely beaten. Because Akal's body was taken from the hospital and buried before the cause of death was established, the defendants were not charged with murder.

In the sentences, the judges noted that the defendants showed no remorse.

'They are completely immersed in the distorted conception that they are allowed to do everything for the goal of a military mission,' the jurists said.

In their verdict, they said it had not been proven at the trial that the senior officers had ordered 'the use of beatings as punishment, but it is clear that this was a result of the general atmosphere that prevailed among the various discussion among high-ranking officers.'

A joint statement by left-wing Parliament members Yossi Sarid and Dedi Zucker said Wednesday's sentences indicated that senior military command and political leaders should come forward and take responsiblity for alleged illegal orders.

Justice Minister Dan Meridor declined to comment on the severity of the sentences. However, former Judge Advocate Gen. Zvi Ledar told Army Radio the sentences were heavy.

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'If they demote a major in the professinal army to lieutenant and give him another three months suspended, that seems heavy to me,' he said.

Maj. Yitzhak Levite, a battalion commander not directly involved in the beating, was demoted to lieutenant and given three months suspended sentence, Army Radio reported. After being convicted he charged the defendants were 'scapegoats' for policies held throughout the army in the early days of the uprising.

Lt. Ofer Reshef was demoted to sergeant and sentenced to five months with three suspended. Eli Shukrin and Gadi Zinba were demoted to privates and each given five months suspended prison sentences, the radio said.

The defendants plan to appeal the convictions.

Early Wednesday in an unrelated incident, a soldier on patrol was lightly wounded when Palestinian gunmen opened fire and threw two grenades, the army spokesman said. The army closed off the area and searched for the gunmen.

A Gaza Strip resident, Fayik Abu Erjela, 28, was stabbed to death by masked Arabs on his way home Wednesday, Palestinian sources said. Erjela was suspected of collaborating with Israeli authorities, they said.

Later in the day, a Palestinian driver was wounded and his 12-year- old brother slightly injured by soldiers who opened fire at the vehicle during a police chase, the spokesman said.

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Palestinian sources said the driver could not obey police orders to stop because his brakes failed.

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