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No discharge for soldier who initiated Hebron slaying

Jan. 20, 2011 10:50 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 21, 2011 3:59 P.M.)
TEL AVIV (Ma'an) -- The Israeli military announced late Wednesday evening that the soldier who killed a civilian in his Hebron home would not be discharged, while a second officer who joined in the killing would have his military career "terminated."

The investigation looked into the death of the death of a civilian during an arrest raid in Hebron targeting Hamas men released from PA custody the day before, where Israeli forces shot and killed a 66-year-old man in his bed, in what appeared to be a case of mistaken identity.

Investigating officer GOC Central Command, Major General Avi Mizrahi was said in a statement to have absolved the officer who started shooting at the sleeping Omer Salim Al-Qawasmi.

The statement said "a suspicious movement [..] caused the soldier to feel that his life was threatened."

According to the statement, the soldiers fear was excused, "especially having known about the actions of Wael Bitar, a senior Hamas operative who was the main suspect of the arrest operation."

Al-Bitar, who was detained in June 2008 by what witnesses at the time said were Israeli forces. The arrest followed a violent standoff as Israeli soldiers surrounded and demolished Al-Bitar's home, after demanding he give up a man who was staying in the building and stood accused of assisting a resistance fighter. The home was demolished around Al-Bitar, and the alleged fighter he was harboring killed in the demolitions. Later reports said Al-Bitar was detained by PA intelligence officials.

Israeli military officials said Al-Bitar assisted in the planning of a 2008 attack that killed one Israeli woman, and was behind the planning of several attacks that were thwarted.

A second soldier, who was also said to have fired on the sleeping man, was found by the inquiry to have "acted unprofessionaly."

The unidentified officer, "who, having watched the first soldier firing at Qawasme, began firing at him as well."

According to the military statement the investigating officer concluded that "while the second soldier did feel threatened, he acted unprofessionaly [... and] ordered that the soldier's military term be terminated."

It was not clear whether the soldier was honorably or dishonorably discharged.

Mizrahi was said to have "concluded that this firing was executed in accordance with IDF rules of engagement," though the statement said the death of Al-Qawasmi was "regrettable."

According to a security source, the officers were part of the "'Duvdevan' counter-terrorism elite unit" which was "called in for an arrest operation in the city of Hebron."

The source described the unit as "a professional, elite unit specializing in close combat, camouflage and assimilation into hostile territory."

Al-Qawasmi was shot 13 times in the face, neck at torso as he slept.
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