US senator asks for probe into possible Israeli ‘extrajudicial killings’
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US senator asks for probe into possible Israeli ‘extrajudicial killings’

Patrick Leahy and 10 other lawmakers question military aid to Israel, Egypt given allegations of human rights abuses by their security forces

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

File: Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, center, discusses the US travel embargo to Cuba, January 29, 2015. (CC BY/Senate Democrats, Flickr)
File: Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, center, discusses the US travel embargo to Cuba, January 29, 2015. (CC BY/Senate Democrats, Flickr)

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy and 10 House members have asked US Secretary of State John Kerry to investigate alleged Israeli human rights abuses and to determine whether they are reason enough to cut military aid, according to a Wednesday report.

The request was made in a letter sent to Kerry on February 17 and which was published by Politico.

Leahy and his fellow signatories asked the president to look into claims of “gross violations of human rights” by Israel and Egypt, citing examples of alleged extrajudicial killings by both countries.

On Israel, the letter asks Kerry to investigate “what may be extrajudicial killings,” citing claims by Amnesty International and other human rights groups relating to the deaths of Fadi Aloun, Sa’ad al-Atrash, Hadeel Hashlamoun and Mutaw Awisat.

According to Israel, all four were killed while in the midst of attempting to attack Israelis in Jerusalem and Hebron, though those claims are disputed.

The letter also asked Kerry to probe the 2013 Rab’aa Square massacre in Egypt, which claimed over 800 lives as security forces cleared out two protest camps.

Leahy, a Democratic Senate veteran, is the architect of 1997 legislation that prohibits the State and Defense departments from providing military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity.

“In light of these reports we request that you act promptly to determine their credibility and whether they trigger the Leahy Law and, if so, take appropriate action called for under the law,” the signatories asked in the letter.

Jerusalem has chafed at accusations that its security forces are carrying out extrajudicial killings during a six-month round of violence and Palestinian terrorism that has seen 29 Israelis and four foreign nationals killed by Palestinians and some 200 Palestinians killed.

Israel says some two-thirds of the Palestinians killed were in the midst of attacks, and the rest died during clashes with troops. An investigation of the issue by a key ally could further dampen ties between the countries.

However, videos and testimonies claiming excessive use of force have raised troubling questions, including a video which emerged last week of a soldier killing an already wounded Palestinian assailant in Hebron.

The soldier is being investigated and may face murder charges, but has been vociferously defended by some sectors of Israeli society.

Israelis protest outside a military court in support of a soldier who was charged for killing a wounded Palestinian assailant, on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 (Flash90)
Israelis protest outside a military court in support of a soldier who was charged for killing a wounded Palestinian assailant, on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 (Flash90)

In January, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said a call by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom to probe possible Israeli extrajudicial killings was “irresponsible and delusional” and encouraged terrorism.

The Leahy letter raises the question of how the US State Department officials “document and determine the credibility of information related to allegations of gross violations of human rights by foreign security forces.”

“According to information we have received, the manner in which US military assistance has been provided to Israel and Egypt, since the Camp David Accords, including the delivery of assistance at the military service level, has created a unique situation that has hindered implementation of normal mechanisms for monitoring the use of such assistance,” the letter says.

State Department officials did not offer an immediate response to queries about the letter, the report said. Israeli officials also did not immediately respond.

Washington briefly suspended aid to Egypt following a 2013 coup by then military leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is now president.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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