The Israeli military on Tuesday said an initial investigation found that the Palestinian medic shot dead during clashes along the Gaza border last week was not intentionally targeted.
The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that soldiers fired shots in the area, but said that they were not aimed at the 21-year-old volunteer medic, Razan Najjar.
“During the incident, a limited number of bullets were fired and no gunfire was directly or intentionally fired at her,” the army said in a statement.
This appeared to indicate that Najjar was hit either by a mis-aimed shot or a ricochet last Friday as she tended to the injured near the security fence east of her hometown of Khan Younis, while wearing a white coat clearly marking her as a medical professional.
The military maintains that under its rules of engagement it only uses live fire in the case of a direct threat to life or when rioters are going to damage the border fence and security infrastructure. In addition, the IDF says it tries to avoid targeting women, children, medics and journalists.
The IDF said the investigation of Najjar’s death, which is led by the Southern Command, was ongoing.
The IDF General Staff also launched its own probe into the incident, the findings of which will be presented to the Military Advocate General to determine if criminal proceedings are necessary, the army said.
On Friday, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry reported that Najjar was fatally shot in the chest by the IDF during a violent protest along the border.
Thousands of Palestinians attended her funeral the next day in Khan Younis. Ambulances and medical crews participated in the funeral, with her father holding the white blood-stained medics’ jacket she wore when she was shot, as mourners called for revenge.
The Israeli army on Friday said the violence included “thousands of rioters” at five locations along the border, “burning tires adjacent to the security fence and attempting to damage security infrastructure.”
Shots were fired at an army vehicle and a Palestinian had crossed into Israel, planted a grenade and returned to Gaza, the army said.
After the funeral on Saturday, dozens of mourners headed to the fence and started throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers on the other side. The Hamas-run health ministry said five protesters were wounded by Israeli fire.
Najjar was less than 100 yards from the border fence, treating a man who been struck by a tear gas canister, when she was shot, according a relative, Ibrahim al-Najjar, who was there and who said he carried her to an ambulance.
“I told her it was dangerous to approach [the fence] but she answered that she was not afraid to die and wanted to help the young man,” a fellow medic told Gaza reporters, according to Haaretz.
The Palestinian Medical Relief Society said Najjar was shot “as she was attempting to provide first aid to an injured protester,” and was among three other first responders also hit by live fire on Friday.
“Shooting at medical personnel is a war crime under the Geneva conventions,” the PMRC said in a statement, demanding “an immediate international response to Israeli humanitarian law violations in Gaza.”
The UN’s envoy for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a tweet that “Medical workers are #NotATarget!” and that “Israel needs to calibrate its use of force and Hamas need to prevent incidents at the fence.”
Medical workers are #NotATarget! My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of #Razan_AlNajjar! #Palestinians in #Gaza have had enough suffering. #Israel needs to calibrate its use of force and Hamas need to prevent incidents at the fence. Escalation only costs more lives.
— Nickolay E. MLADENOV (@nmladenov) June 2, 2018
The criticism was echoed by Joint (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi, who called the shooting “a despicable war crime committed by a cowardly and criminal sniper who saw a nurse with a white coat and pulled the trigger.”
In addition to the comments made at a conference in Wadi Ara, Tibi sarcastically tweeted that the sniper was a soldier in the “most moral army in the world,” a description frequently used by Israeli politicians and advocates about the IDF.
Following her death, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh MK tweeted that “the life of the caring angel was taken away.”
Najjar had given an interview to the New York Times last month in which she proudly discussed her position as a female volunteer medic.
“Being a medic is not only a job for a man. It’s for women, too,” she told the Times.
“We have one goal. To save lives and evacuate people. And to send a message to the world: Without weapons, we can do anything.”
Najjar had reportedly been among the first volunteer medics at the protest camp in Khan Younis.
“The strength that I showed the first day of the protests, I dare you to find it in anyone else,” she told the Times.
Israel faces weekly attacks by violent protesters at the border. Israel says its forces have opened fire to stop attempts to harm soldiers, damage the fence, infiltrate Israel, and attempt to carry out attacks. Israel accuses Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since 2008, of seeking to use the protests as cover to carry out violence.
The Gaza ministry said 100 Palestinians were injured during Friday’s riots, 40 of them from live fire.
Friday’s border tensions came at the end of a week that saw the worst escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas since the 2014 war in Gaza. Earlier this week, Palestinian terror groups fired over 100 rockets and mortars at towns and cities in southern Israel. The Israel Defense Forces responded with dozens of airstrikes on Hamas military targets. After almost 24 hours of fire, a tacit understanding and unofficial ceasefire began, though Gazan groups fired at Israel again late Saturday.