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Amnesty: Israel must investigate Golan deaths

June 7, 2011 7:14 P.M. (Updated: June 8, 2011 1:26 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Amnesty International on Wednesday called on the Israeli authorities to investigate their army's killing of protesters along the ceasefire line with Syria on Sunday.

The global rights group said they had spoken to a human rights activist in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights who "contradicts IDF [Israeli army] claims that all possible non-lethal means were used to disperse the protesters before lethal force was used."

The march, marking Naksa day which commemorates the 1967 war, saw thousands of demonstrators calling for an end to Israel's occupation of Palestinian and Syrian lands rush the ceasefire line. Syria's state media say 23 were killed by Israeli army fire, while the Israeli military say 10 died throwing Molotov cocktails toward landmines.

A human rights activist who was 10 meters from the army told Amnesty he saw Israeli soldiers sheltering behind multiple barbed wire fences and periodically firing live ammunition at protesters some 60 meters away between 11am to 9pm.

The activist said soldiers had initially warned protesters in Arabic before opening fire, as Israeli army statements had said, but that troops did not fire tear gas or sound bombs to disperse the protesters until around dusk, in contradiction to army assurances that all non-lethal means were used, Amnesty said in a statement.

The rights organization also noted that while military spokespeople said Israeli troops aimed at the lower half of protesters’ bodies, Syrian health authorities reported that the majority of injuries were to the upper body.

Amnesty said it was "seriously concerned that Israeli troops used excessive force by firing live ammunition against protesters who were not endangering the lives of Israeli military personnel or others."

It called for independent investigations into Sunday's events, and deaths at a protest in the same area on May 15, in which 12 died, "in order to help prevent further loss of life and ensure accountability for killings that were unlawful."

On Tuesday, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also backed calls for an investigation, releasing a statement saying she was "deeply concerned"

"Between 30 and 40 protesters have reportedly been killed by Israeli security forces in the past three weeks," she said. "The Government of Israel has a duty to ensure that its security personnel avoid the use of excessive force."

"However difficult the circumstances, the use of live ammunition against allegedly unarmed protestors, resulting in large numbers of deaths and injuries, inevitably raises the question of unnecessary and excessive use of force," the statement continued.
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