ISRAELI troops who shot dead a Palestinian teenager in the occupied West Bank last week, used live bullets against innocent youth without warning, an Israeli rights group said last Wednesday.
After investigating the March 19 death of 15-year-old Yussef Sami Shawamreh, the human rights organisation B’Tselem said it had found no evidence to support the army’s version of events that troops had opened fire at youths who had ‘sabotaged’ the West Bank separation wall.
But an army spokesman insisted troops had fired warning shots, adding that recent violence along the border with the Gaza Strip and on the Syrian frontier meant that anyone approaching the barrier was a cause for concern.
B’Tselem said the primary responsibility for the boy’s death rested with the commanders who approved the use of live fire at a site where villagers from Deir al-Asal al-Tahta are known to go out and pick wild plants on their own land.
The army claimed after the incident that soldiers had spotted three Palestinians vandalising the barrier, saying they had verbally warned them and then fired warning shots in the air before finally shooting at their lower extremities.
Shawamreh’s family and witnesses insisted he had been looking for gundelia, a thistle-like plant used in cooking. Human rights group B’Tselem said the shooting occurred in an area where there is a wide breach in the barrier and where families regularly go out to forage on their own land.
The report said: ‘The two surviving youths heard three or four shots as they got off the road, fired with no advance warning. The NGO said its findings were ‘markedly different’ from the army’s version of events.
It said: ‘The youths made no attempt at vandalism; they were crossing through a long-existing breach, and the soldiers did not carry out suspect arrest procedure, shooting at Shawamreh with no advance warning.’
Troops in the area were ‘well aware’ that over the past two years, Palestinians have been crossing the barrier at the breach ‘to pick gundelia on their own farmland’. It added that the use of live fire showed a ‘cynical lack of concern for the life of a Palestinian teenager’.
Two days earlier, soldiers had detained four teenagers in the same spot, beating them and confiscating the plants they had picked.
‘The decision to mount an armed ambush at a point in the barrier known to be crossed by youths, who pose no danger whatsoever to anyone, for the purpose of harvesting plants, is highly questionable,’ the report said, noting it showed ‘extremely faulty discretion’ on the part of the commanders.
Military regulations prohibit the use of live fire at Palestinians crossing the barrier, if they pose no risk to security forces. B’Tselem director Jessica Montell said: ‘The primary responsibility for the killing lies with the commanders who sent the soldiers out on armed ambush.’
She added that ‘Israel bears personal criminal responsibility’ for Shawamreh’s death.
• US Secretary of State John Kerry and President Mahmud Abbas held ‘constructive’ talks on the Middle East peace process, a US official said on Thursday, as decisions loom in the coming days.
After earlier talks with King Abdullah II of Jordan in Amman, Kerry and his team met for more than four hours over dinner in the Jordanian capital with the Palestinian leader, a senior State Department official said.
Describing it as ‘a constructive conversation’, the official added that ‘the secretary plans to remain engaged with both Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu over the coming days’. Israel is due to release a fourth and final tranche of prisoners this weekend, a move which will prove key in deciding whether the talks, resumed in July after a three-year gap, unravel or not.
Under the deal relaunching the peace negotiations, Israel said it would release 104 prisoners held since before the 1993 Oslo peace accords in exchange for the Palestinians not pressing their statehood claims via the UN. Israel has so far freed 78 prisoners and has said that it may not release anymore.
Palestinian minister of prisoners affairs Issa Qaraqe said: ‘Israel is trying to worm its way out of releasing the prisoners. ‘They will be held responsible for any repercussions of this.’ He insisted Israel free all the prisoners.
The Palestinians also won key backing on Wednesday from the Arab League for their refusal to bow to Netanyahu’s demand to recognise Israel as the Jewish State. Qaraqe continued: ‘We express our total rejection of the call to consider Israel as a Jewish state.
Kerry, who coaxed the two sides back to the negotiations last July after a three-year freeze, is aiming to reach a framework to guide the talks going forward as an April 29 deadline for a deal looms.
But Abbas told him he would not discuss the framework accord until after the prisoner releases have taken place, a Palestinian source said. Israel also wants the Palestinians to agree to extend the talks beyond April 29, warning a failure to do so would scupper the final prisoner release.
Abbas told the Arab League: ‘We don’t need a new series of accords so that Israel can bury them under an avalanche of conditions, reservations or interpretations before going back on their commitments.’
The prisoner issue is not the only issue jeopardising the peace talks.
Israeli army radio said on Wednesday that the US had offered to release Jonathan Pollard, who was arrested in 1985 and condemned to life imprisonment for spying on the United States for Israel, in return for Palestinian prisoners being freed.
But State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki shot down the report, saying: ‘There are currently no plans to release Jonathan Pollard.’
Kerry and Obama went on to visit Saudi Arabia yesterday, when the peace process was discussed.
• Israeli special forces on Wednesday prevented Palestinian human rights organisations in Jerusalem from holding a conference in opposition to Arab enlistment in the Israeli military.
They stormed the headquarters of the Yabous Cultural Centre immediately prior to the beginning of the conference and shut down the building until the evening.
Israeli police hung a notice signed by the chief of police banning the proceedings from moving forward because the conference was organised by activists associated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which Israeli authorities claim is a terrorist organisation.