Border Police chief: Troops who mistakenly killed teen girl in Jenin acted correctly

Amir Cohen expresses ’emphatic and unreserved backing and support’ for security forces after probe finds Jana Majdi Assam Zakarna, 16, was likely killed by sniper fire

Border Police chief Amir Cohen addresses troops at a ceremony on December 14, 2022 (Israel Police)
Border Police chief Amir Cohen addresses troops at a ceremony on December 14, 2022 (Israel Police)

The head of the Border Police said Wednesday that troops who the IDF said likely mistakenly shot and killed a teenage Palestinian girl this week during a battle with Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank acted correctly.

“I emphatically and unreservedly expressed my backing and support for the fighters,” Amir Cohen said during a graduation ceremony of the police’s elite Yasam counter-terror unit.

“I have determined, based on the investigation that was presented to me a few hours after the incident, that our fighters acted morally, with values, with courage, with determination, and saved lives. And for that, I salute them.”

His remarks came after the Israel Defense Forces said it believed with “high probability” that a Border Police officer accidentally shot and killed Jana Majdi Assam Zakarna, 16, who was found dead on Sunday on the roof of her Jenin home with a gunshot wound to the head after Israeli troops withdrew from the city.

The IDF, citing an initial probe of the shooting, said a Border Police sniper fired at Palestinian gunmen who were shooting at soldiers from rooftops during the raid.

“Fighting in hostile territory, as we saw recently in the Jenin area, is sometimes clouded by the fog of battle. As such, we are obliged to make decisions under fire and in a short period of time,” Cohen argued.

An undated photo of Jana Majdi Assam Zakarna, 16, who was killed during a gun battle between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank city of Jenin, December 11, 2022. (Social media)

“We don’t have VAR,” he said, referring to the video replays used by referees to review calls in soccer games. “We can’t go to the screen and decide what was the right thing or not.”

The IDF said it was looking into the possibility that Zakarna may have aided the gunmen by observing or filming the Israeli forces during the raid.

The military dismissed claims that the teen was shot on purpose as “unfounded and baseless.”

Palestinians carry the body of Jana Zakarna, 16, during her funeral in the West Bank city of Jenin, December 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz expressed sorrow over the death of Zakarna on Monday, saying he was sorry for “any death of a person who was not involved in terrorism, if that was indeed the case.”

He noted that the raid was aimed at arresting Palestinians suspected of recent shooting attacks and those involved in terror organizations.

Following the incident, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh urged the United Nation’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, “to investigate the occupation’s crimes against children and put Israel on the blacklist.”

Gamba is currently on a visit to the West Bank and Israel. There was no immediate comment from her on the request.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in July that “Israel should be listed” if the situation of children in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza does not improve by next year. An annual UN review of children in armed conflict accused Israel of 2,934 violations against minors there in 2021.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh holds a briefing with foreign press at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, November 10, 2021. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

Tensions have been high in the West Bank over the past year, with the IDF conducting an ongoing major anti-terror offensive mostly focused on the northern West Bank to deal with a series of Palestinian attacks.

The operation has netted more than 2,500 arrests in near-nightly raids, but has also left more than 165 Palestinians dead, many of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, but some have been uninvolved civilians.

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