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A Palestinian farmer shows the damage to his land, he said was caused by Israeli settlers' attack, to Iyad Hadad (L), a field researcher from B'Tselem, one of Israel's leading human rights groups, in the West Bank village of Turmus Aya near Ramallah June 8, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman/File Photo

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By Luke Baker

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - B'Tselem, one of Israel's leading human rights groups, said on Wednesday it would no longer refer complaints of abuse carried out by Israeli soldiers to Israeli military courts because the system was biased and set up to whitewash cases.

The group, which has monitored Israel's occupation of the West Bank and incidents of violence and abuse by soldiers against Palestinians for 25 years, said the military's legal system was too narrowly defined and served to protect its own.

"B'Tselem will no longer play a part in the pretense posed by the military law enforcement system and will no longer refer complaints to it," it said in an 80-page report.

"The experience we have gained... has brought us to the realisation that there is no longer any point in pursuing justice and defending human rights by working with a system whose real function is measured by its ability to continue to cover up unlawful acts and protect perpetrators."

The Israel Defense Forces said the picture presented by B'Tselem was inaccurate and did not reflect reality.

"The IDF is committed to the rule of law and its legal system acts with utmost professionalism and thoroughness," it said in a statement. "The IDF thoroughly checks and investigates any and all claims of misconduct including those from B'Tselem and many other organisation, and will continue to act transparently in order to arrive at the truth."

B'Tselem, one of whose workers in the West Bank city of Hebron captured video footage in March of an Israeli soldier fatally shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker, said it had analysed 739 cases it referred to the Military Advocate General between 2000 and 2015.

In a quarter of those cases, it said no investigation was launched, while in 343 the investigation was closed without further action. Only 25 led to charges being brought, while 132 remain open in some capacity. Forty-four have been lost.

The cases involved allegations of fatal shootings, injuries, beatings, damage to property and the use of Palestinians as human shields.

B'Tselem said the military justice system created the impression of action, with a multi-step process that allowed government officials to say that something was being done.

"Among other things, the semblance of a functioning justice system allows Israeli officials to deny claims made both in Israel and abroad that Israel does not enforce the law on soldiers who harm Palestinians," the report said.

The Israeli soldier involved in the Hebron shooting is currently on trial in a military court for manslaughter.

Members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government have called for clemency, saying the soldier did nothing wrong. Netanyahu has spoken to the defendant's parents to reassure them that he will be treated fairly and urged prosecutors to consider the context.

At the time, army commanders described the shooting as a disgrace and a gross violation of military ethics. There were initially calls for the soldier to be charged with murder.

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis; editing by Jermey Gaunt)

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