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Israeli West Bank killings could amount to 'war crimes'

Feb. 27, 2014 10:09 A.M. (Updated: March 2, 2014 2:59 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli military forces routinely use "unnecessary, arbitrary and brutal force" against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, with some killings amounting to war crimes, Amnesty International said Thursday.

In a report entitled 'Trigger-happy', the human rights group says Israeli forces display a "callous disregard" for human life with near total impunity for the killing of Palestinian civilians in cases examined since 2011.

"The report presents a body of evidence that shows a harrowing pattern of unlawful killings and unwarranted injuries of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces in the West Bank," said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.

"The frequency and persistence of arbitrary and abusive force against peaceful protesters in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers and police officers – and the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators – suggests that it is carried out as a matter of policy."

Amnesty documented the killing of 22 Palestinians in 2013, 14 of which took place during protests and four of whom were children.

In all cases the civilians killed posed no direct or immediate threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers and there is evidence that some were willfully killed, which would amount to a war crime.

The report presents a case study of the killing of Samir Awad, 16, in the Ramallah village of Budrus, who was shot three times in the back of the head, leg and shoulder as he fled Israeli soldiers in January 2013.

Awad and his friends had tried to stage a protest against Israel's separation wall before being ambushed by Israeli forces and fleeing.

"They shot him first in the leg, yet he managed to run away… how far can an injured child run? They could have easily arrested him… instead they shot him in the back with live ammunition," a friend of Samir told Amnesty.

Samir's killing may amount to an extrajudicial execution, or willful killing, which is considered a war crime under international law, the report added.

Forty-five Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since 2011, with peaceful protesters, civilian bystanders, human rights activists and journalists among the victims.

In the same time period, 261 Palestinians, including 67 children, have been seriously injured by live fire, while over 8,500 people, including 1,500 children, have been shot and wounded by rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas canisters.

"The staggering numbers of wounded provide a sobering reminder of the relentless daily danger faced by Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank," said Philip Luther.

In many cases several victims were shot in the back, indicating that they posed no genuine threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers and were targeted as they fled.

Israeli investigations into suspected unlawful killings have lacked transparency, impartiality and "proved woefully inadequate."

"Too much civilian blood has been spilled. This long-standing pattern of abuse must be broken. If the Israeli authorities wish to prove to the world they are committed to democratic principles and international human rights standards, unlawful killings and unnecessary use of force must stop now," Luther said.

Israel's army responded to the report by noting a "substantial increase in Palestinian violence" over the past year.

"The IDF holds itself to the highest of professional standards and trains and equips itself as such. When there is any suspicion of wrong doing, or breach of discipline, the IDF reviews, investigates and takes action where appropriate," a statement said.
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