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Israeli officer suspended for striking foreign national

April 16, 2012 9:26 A.M. (Updated: April 18, 2012 2:55 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israel's military suspended a senior officer who struck an activist in the face with a gun, an army spokesman said on Monday, after a video of the incident was put on the Internet.

The video showed Lieutenant-Colonel Shalom Eisner holding his M-16 rifle in both hands and shouting at a group of demonstrators taking part in a bicycle rally in the occupied West Bank, before suddenly striking a man in the face.

The demonstrator, a Danish national, fell to the ground and was carried away by activists. Israeli military spokesman Yoav Mordechai told Army Radio the incident happened on Saturday.

Mordechai told Army Radio the officer's behavior was unacceptable and he had been suspended following an initial investigation. However, he said the edited video did not reflect the whole story.

"These are harsh pictures, but I still can't divorce the filmed episodes from the incident that lasted over an hour and which included violence by the anarchists and Palestinians, (though) this does not justify what we see."

The protester, named as Andreas Ias, was treated in a Palestinian hospital for light injuries and told Israeli media on Monday that he was well.

"We were just walking slowly towards the soldiers, we were chanting Palestinian songs calling for the liberation of Palestine. I don't believe that is a provocation," he told Israel's Channel 10 television.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the officer's actions.

"This behavior is not characteristic of IDF soldiers and commanders and it has no place in the IDF or in the state of Israel," a statement from Netanyahu's office said of the incident.

Israeli MK Michael Ben Ari, a member of the National Union party, congratulated the soldier on the assault, Israel's Haaretz reported.

"Well done to the IDF officer who did what Bibi and Aharonovich have no brain or courage to do," the Israeli daily quoted Ben Ari as saying.

"There was a tangible threat to the lives of the soldiers and the officer had no other choice," he added.

Soldiers stopped a group of around 250 participants near the Jericho village of al-Auja and refused to let them start a cycling tour, which was organized by youth group Sharek and officials from the al-Auja environmental center.

Ma'an staff in Bethlehem contributed to this report
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