Eyewitness claims soldiers pepper-sprayed Palestinian, shot him dead when he flailed

Man denies Ahmad Kahla, killed by troops at West Bank checkpoint Sunday, tried to grab soldier’s gun; footage shows struggle with soldiers near Ofra settlement; IDF investigating

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A Palestinian man is seen scuffling with troops near the West Bank settlement of Ofra, January 15, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter)
A Palestinian man is seen scuffling with troops near the West Bank settlement of Ofra, January 15, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter)

An eyewitness to a deadly incident in the West Bank earlier this week told Israeli radio on Tuesday that the Palestinian man who was shot dead by Israeli soldiers did not attempt to attack forces, as the army has asserted.

The witness claimed the man was pepper-sprayed by the troops and flailing because of it when he was shot.

On Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces said troops identified a suspicious vehicle near the West Bank settlement of Ofra, north of Ramallah, whose driver allegedly refused to stop for a routine inspection.

“Following the identification of this suspicious activity, the soldiers used riot dispersal means in order to detain one of the suspects in the vehicle,” the IDF said in a statement.

The army said a “violent confrontation” began, during which the suspect attempted to grab a soldier’s gun. “The soldiers used live fire toward the suspect,” the IDF said.

Unclear partial footage of the incident showed the man, 45-year-old Ahmad Kahla, scuffling with troops, before gunshots ring out.

Kan news on Tuesday aired the testimony of an unnamed eyewitness to the incident who said the checkpoint was tough, with soldiers taking as long as half an hour to let a single car through.

He said when soldiers approached Kahla’s car, he said a few combative words.

He “taunted them a bit so they came to the car and pepper-sprayed him. When they took him out of the car he was covered in pepper spray. He couldn’t see a thing. He started moving with his arms to and fro and one of the soldiers shot him,” the witness said.

Kahla, a father of four, was on his way to work when he was shot, his family said.

His son, Qusai Kahla, told AFP he was in the car with his father when they were stopped at the checkpoint.

“Soldiers came and they sprayed pepper spray on my face and pulled me out of the car,” the 18-year-old said. “I don’t know what happened after that.”

The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry condemned the deadly incident as a “heinous execution.”

Initial, unconfirmed reports by Hebrew-language media had suggested the suspect and several others were first hurling stones at a nearby military post and said the man then ran toward troops while allegedly brandishing a knife, before being shot.

The IDF did not say Kahla was armed or had been hurling stones in its statement.

The army added that the incident would be investigated further.

The incident came during an Israeli anti-terror offensive, mostly focused on the northern West Bank, to deal with a series of Palestinian attacks that killed 31 people in 2022.

The IDF’s operation has netted more than 2,500 arrests in near-nightly raids. It also left 171 Palestinians dead in 2022, and another 14 since the beginning of the year, many of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, though some were uninvolved civilians.

AFP contributed to this report.

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