'We were going to a Turkish bath in Nablus'

Family of Palestinian shot dead deny his car ran a West Bank checkpoint

Relatives of Qassem al-Abbasi say they posed no threat at the time of shooting last Thursday; military says the driver didn’t stop after soldiers fired warning shots

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Mohammad al-Abbasi, 25, sitting in the living room of a family member's home in Silwan on December 23, 2018. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)
Mohammad al-Abbasi, 25, sitting in the living room of a family member's home in Silwan on December 23, 2018. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)

Relatives of Qassem al-Abbasi, a 17-year-old Palestinian who was shot dead near Ramallah last week, on Sunday denied the IDF’s assertion that Abbasi’s car drove through a military roadblock, and said he and the other passengers did not pose a threat when they came under fire.

“We were going to a Turkish bath in Nablus,” said Mohammad al-Abbasi, a 25-year-old resident of Silwan and one of Qassem’s cousins. “We were not a threat to anyone.” 

Mohammad, who was driving the car last Thursday evening, said he and his relatives were traveling to Nablus from Silwan when they were diverted by Israeli security forces and then got lost.

“When we were driving to Nablus, we encountered police officers blocking the road. They told us we cannot drive to Nablus from here and we need to turn around and go through the road near Beit El,” Mohammad told The Times of Israel, referring to a central West Bank settlement.

17-year-old Qassem al-Abbasi (Screenshot: Twitter)

Israeli security forces had blocked traffic near the Ofra settlement Thursday night after shots were fired from Ein Yabroud, a Palestinian village, toward an intersection in the area, the IDF said in a statement.

“When we reached the Beit El [traffic] circle, we made a right turn and realized we were not going the right way,” said Mohammad. “We began to make our way back to the road we came from and settlers started shooting at us, breaking one of our windows. We kept driving, but then stopped shortly afterwards when the army came.”

The Israel Defense Forces contradicted Mohammad’s account that settlers opened fire on the car, and asserted that soldiers had shot at it.

The IDF said an initial review of the incident found that Mohammad had driven through a checkpoint and continued driving even after soldiers fired warning shots in the air to compel him to stop the car. The army said that after Mohammad did not stop, soldiers opened fire on the vehicle, killing Qassem and injuring another passenger.

Soldiers from the ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda battalion at the so-called Focus checkpoint were involved in the incident, according to Hebrew media reports.

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers inspect cars at a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus on January 10, 2018. (Jaafar/Ashtiyeh/AFP)

When pressed on how certain he was that settlers had fired at their vehicle, Mohammad maintained that he “had no doubts,” while denying that he had driven through a checkpoint.

Mohammad said that he and the others did not immediately realize Qassem had been hit by a bullet.

“The soldiers told us to get out the car and we all did except for Qassem. We thought he passed out,” he said. “We then carried him out of the car, lifted his shirt and saw he had been struck hit by a bullet. One of the soldiers took his pulse and told us he was dead.”

The two other Abbasi family members who were in the car confirmed Mohammad’s account of the incident.

After Qassem’s body was taken away, Israeli security forces questioned Mohammad and the two family members before setting them free, Mohammad said.

He said he and his family hope Israeli authorities will hand Qassem’s body over to them soon for burial, but said they would like Israeli and Palestinian authorities to first carry out a postmortem examination.

IDF soldiers operating in the West Bank, December 14, 2018 (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Mohammad Mahmoud, the Abbasi family’s lawyer, said it was still was not clear when the body would be returned to the family.

An IDF spokesperson declined to comment on the matter.

Following the incident on Thursday, the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division commander, Brig. Gen. Eran Niv, clarified open-fire protocols to soldiers.

Niv said the army’s rules of engagement allow soldiers to open fire only in cases of “clear and present danger,” Channel 10 news reported.

“We are killing people who did not intend to kill,” Niv reportedly said.

Thursday’s incident came with security forces on edge after two terrorist shooting attacks earlier this month in the central West Bank — one outside the Ofra settlement on December 9 and another at the Givat Assaf Junction on December 13.

Several Israelis were injured in the attack at the Ofra Junction, including a seven-months pregnant woman, whose baby — delivered in emergency surgery by doctors hours after the attack — died several days later.

Israeli security forces and forensic experts inspect the scene of a terror shooting outside the Givat Assaf settlement outpost, northeast of the West Bank city of Ramallah, on December 13, 2018. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Two soldiers were killed and another was critically injured in the Givat Assaf attack. The two soldiers were also members of the Netzah Yehuda battalion, and the gunman is still at large.

An Israeli defense official said Thursday that the man suspected of shooting the soldiers is Asem Barghouti, the brother of Salih Barghouti, who was suspected of carrying out the Ofra terror attack.

Salih was shot dead on December 12 in a village near Ramallah as he attacked Israeli security forces in an attempt to evade arrest, the Shin Bet security service said.

Last week, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian man in the town of al-Bireh, who the army said was trying to run over soldiers. The family of Hamdan al-Arda, 58, denied he was trying to drive into the soldiers.

Agencies contributed to this story. 

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