FOUR Palestinian youths from Nablus, aged 19 and under, were killed by the Israeli occupation army on March 20 and 21.
An Israeli military statement on Monday, detailed the results of two investigations it said were carried out into the circumstances around the deaths of the four.
The first death was that of 16-year-old Useid Qadus, shot in the head by Israeli forces on March 20, and later Muhammad Qadus, also 16, who died of wounds to the chest he sustained alongside his cousin in Iraq Burin. Muhammad died on March 21 in hospital.
Later on the same Sunday, Israeli soldiers shot dead 19-year-old farmers Muhammad Faysal and Salah Muhammad Qawariq.
Both were from the Awarta village, southeast of Nablus, and were en route to farmland carrying agricultural tools and herbicide, the same sources said.
According to the military statement, the inquiry into the Iraq Burin incident found soldiers ‘operating to protect the adjacent community (illegal settlement) of Bracha’ encountered ‘Palestinians hurl(ing) firebombs and rocks at security forces.
‘During the incident, a force commanded by a deputy battalion commander entered Iraq Burin in order to arrest a number of rioters,’ and when they found the road blocked they exited their vehicles to continue the detention operation on foot.
According to the report ‘the deputy battalion commander testified that at this point, having received the required authorisation, he shot a number of rubber bullets towards the rioters.
‘The deputy battalion commander identified hitting one of the Palestinian rioters.
‘Later on, it was reported that two Palestinians were killed during the riot.’
Despite the investigation, the army said it was unable to ‘verify the autopsy and could therefore not confirm that the rioters were in fact hit by live rounds.’
Initially the army said that no live fire was used, though medical officials and human rights advocates pointed to photographic evidence and an X-ray showing a live round in the head of Useid they say proves the army used live fire.
A report by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), however, said several boys were throwing stones at Israeli forces, who responded by firing into the air.
The boys returned to their village, as Israeli forces took positions to the east.
‘At approximately 15.00, a Palestinian civil Ford transit minibus, driven by Zakareya ‘Adel Qadus, arrived in the village from Nablus,’ the PCHR report said, noting soldiers 30 metres away at the intersection entering the village were disembarked from their vehicles.
‘As the driver turned around to travel back to Nablus, Israeli soldiers opened fire at Muhammad, who was hit by a bullet to the heart, and Useid who was wounded by a bullet to the head,’ the report said.
According to the army assessment, its ‘regional brigade should have led to different actions than those taken by the force when it entered the village.’
PCHR said the ‘crime is part of a series of war crimes committed by IOF (Israeli Occupation Forces) in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which reflect total disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians.’
A second Israeli military investigation into the shooting deaths of the two Awarta farmers said the incident occurred when officers ‘conducted a security inspection of two Palestinians, when one of the suspects began acting suspiciously and finally assaulted one of the soldiers with a bottle.’
At the time, Israel’s army said the two attempted to stab a soldier who was on a ‘routine patrol’ near the Awarta military checkpoint. ‘In response, forces opened fire and identified a direct hit,’ an army spokeswoman said.
Because of the reportedly suspicious behaviour, the army report said, ‘one of the soldiers felt his life was in danger and fired at the Palestinian.
‘At that point, the second suspect, who was a few metres away, raised his hand holding a sharp object, causing the soldier to believe that he, too, was attempting to attack. As a result, the soldier fired and killed the Palestinian.’
According to a second PCHR investigation, autopsies at Rafidiya Hospital under Dr Abdul Karim Hashash revealed entrance and exit wounds for four bullets in the chest of Muhamad Qawariq; two in the bottom of the abdomen and two to the left thigh and leg.
The autopsy also found Muhamad had sustained fractures and burns in the left leg. ‘This indicates that he was shot from a close range,’ the report said.
The autopsy on Salah Qawariq found that the young man ‘was hit by a bullet that entered the chest and exited the back, another one to the right arm (with a entrance and an exit) and a third one that entered the back and exited the top of the chest,’ PCHR reported.
In his comments on the Israeli army investigation, Major-General Mizrahi ‘concluded that the results of the incident are difficult, and stated that the force could have operated in a more professional manner and thus could have avoided the need to use fire.’
The report continued, however: ‘That being said, once the first suspect assaulted the soldier using a weapon, the soldier operated correctly and in accordance with the rules of engagement.’
In their weekly Protection of Civilians report, released last Friday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said reports indicated new rules would see Israeli soldiers use live fire only if a Molotov cocktail is thrown at a civilian car.
Moreover, the report added, Israeli soldiers would need authorisation from ranking officers to fire in the air.
The findings of the OCHA report lined up with comments in the Israeli army statement, which said of the deaths of two boys in Awarta: ‘This operational incident is considered unnecessary, and its results severe,’ leading to a request by Major-General Mizrahi that ‘the professional and relevant aspects of riot control be clarified’.
l Israeli settler organisations joined together on Tuesday to hand court-issued eviction notices to two Sheikh Jarrah families, Fatah official in charge of Jerusalem affairs Hatim Abdul Qader has reported.
The notices gave the Dajani and Dahoodi families 30 days to evacuate their homes, Abdul Qader said, bringing the total number of families facing eviction to eight.
The homes of the Al-Ghawi and Al-Kurd families were evacuated earlier this year and occupied by Israeli settler families.
In early March, the Israeli Coalition Against Home Demolitions reported the first hearing of court cases launched by the Al-Kurd and Jaouni families.
The cases were launched by Nahalat Shimon International, the Sephardic Community Committee and the Knesset Yisrael Committee to evict the families from their homes, and are part of a wider plan to demolish Palestinian homes in the Sheikh Jarrah area and construct two hundred housing units for Jews only.
Hearings for the cases are expected to continue for months.
‘The Dajani and Dahoodi families will not leave their homes,’ Abdul Qader said.
• Gaza residents marched toward Israel’s no-go zone on Tuesday, in protest at the de facto confiscation of 20 per cent of the Strip’s farming lands inside the buffer.
Marchers proceeded from Al-Atatra, a Beit Lahiya neighbourhood in the northern Gaza Strip, toward the border area to plant flags on Palestinian lands.
Popular Resistance Campaign coordinator Mahmoud Az-Ziq said hundreds of local men and international solidarity activists marched toward the no-go zone, raising Palestinian flags at the barbed-wire fence sectioning off the area.
Dozens of Israeli soldiers, he said, fired warning shots in ‘all directions’.
‘These rallies show how adamant we are to regain access to agricultural lands along the border area.
Non-violent rallies will continue, no matter what danger we will face,’ Az-Ziq added.
Beit Hanoun Popular Initiative coordinator Sabir Za’nin said Israeli soldiers in black uniforms ‘surprised’ protesters at the rally by opening fire, in spite of the presence of international activists.
An Israeli military spokesman confirmed that warning shots were fired in the air, approximately 250 metres from the barbed-wire fencing, where Palestinian movement is restricted.