Video of fatal West Bank clash raises new charges of excessive force by Israeli troops

The Associated Press

FILE -- In this Thursday, May 15, 2014 file photo, men try to help Palestinian teen, Mohammad Abu Daher, 17, on the ground, moments after he was shot to death by Israeli troops near the West Bank city of Ramallah. An investigation of a fatal West Bank clash between Israeli forces and Palestinian stone-throwers indicates that troops used live fire without justification and in violation of the army’s rules of engagement, an Israeli human rights group said Tuesday, May 20, 2014. The rights group B’Tselem said its findings are based on witness accounts and medical records. Spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli said security camera footage of the incident that surfaced late Monday supports the group’s findings. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, File)

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By KARIN LAUB, Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) — Security-camera video showing two unarmed Palestinians crumpling to the ground during a lull in a stone-throwing clash with Israeli soldiers revived allegations by human rights activists Tuesday that the troops often use excessive force.

The Israeli rights group B'Tselem said the images back its findings that troops killed the teens without cause by firing live rounds from more than 200 meters away. The soldiers were in "zero danger" at the time, said Sarit Michaeli of B'Tselem.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said, "It was a life-threatening situation, so the officers acted accordingly."

He said he hadn't seen the video, but alleged the images had been manipulated through editing.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a senior spokesman, said preliminary findings show forces fired only rubber-coated steel pellets, a standard means of crowd control, and did not use live fire.

The United Nations and the U.S. State Department called on the Israeli authorities to conduct a transparent investigation.

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco told the Security Council's monthly Mideast briefing: "It is of serious concern that initial information appears to indicate that the two Palestinians killed were both unarmed and appeared to pose no direct threat."

At issue is a clash between Israeli troops and Palestinian stone-throwers May 15 near the West Bank town of Beitouniya, a few hundred meters from an Israeli military base, Ofer. On that day, Palestinians marked the anniversary of their uprooting in the war over Israel's 1948 creation by holding marches and protests in the West Bank and Gaza.

Starting around midday, several dozen Palestinian youths burned tires in a main street and threw stones toward Israeli troops, according to witnesses and B'Tselem.

Troops fired rubber bullets, but also four live rounds, said resident Fakher Zayed, who said he witnessed the confrontation from his balcony. Four security cameras mounted on Zayed's building captured the events on the street below.

The security footage first surfaced late Monday when a local advocacy group, Defense for Children International Palestine, released excerpts that it said showed the two fatal shootings. B'Tselem later obtained the unedited footage, which was also given to The Associated Press, and said there was no indication the images had been tampered with.

In the first incident, clocked by the time stamp at 1:45 p.m., a figure with a backpack walks from the left side of the street toward a group of Palestinians standing near a building wall on the other side. Suddenly, the figure falls to the ground. Those near the wall rush to him and he is carried away.

There was sporadic stone-throwing for several minutes before the incident.

In the second incident, clocked at 2:58 p.m. at the same location, a Palestinian walks from the wall toward the middle of the street. After a few steps, he falls to the ground. There was no stone-throwing at the time. AP footage from the day of the incident showed the evacuation of the second victim, who was wearing a green flag of the Islamic militant group Hamas like a cape and had thrown stones earlier.

The security camera video does not show a source of gunfire or a shooter in either incident. The AP cameraman who was present during the confrontations said the video is in line with what he witnessed.

The bodies of the slain teens were taken to Ramallah Hospital. They were identified as Nadim Nawara and Mohammed Abu Dhaher, both 17. B'Tselem later said Abu Dhaher's actual last name is Salameh.

The head of the emergency department, Dr. Samir Saliba, said at the time that both were killed by live fire to the upper body. He said Nawara was shot in the chest and the second teen in the right side of his back. A third Palestinian was shot and seriously wounded in the chest, Saliba said.

B'Tselem obtained copies of the medical reports.