IDF investigating shooting of double amputee in Gaza clashes

Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, who reportedly lost his legs in a 2008 Israeli airstrike, was shot dead allegedly by an IDF soldier on Friday; thousands attended his funeral on Saturday

Palestinian demonstrator Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh waves a Palestinian flag during clashes with Israeli soldiers near the border fence east of Gaza City, May 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed/File)
Palestinian demonstrator Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh waves a Palestinian flag during clashes with Israeli soldiers near the border fence east of Gaza City, May 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed/File)

The army on Sunday announced it was investigating the shooting of a wheelchair-bound amputee who was apparently killed by an Israeli soldier during riots along the Gaza border on Friday.

The death of Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, a double amputee who reportedly lost both his legs in a 2008 Israeli airstrike, has sparked angry denunciations from Palestinians and others, who say he could not have been seen as a threat during protests Friday.

“The allegations of the killing of a paraplegic Palestinian rioter are under investigation. The results of this investigation will be presented to the General of the Southern Command in the coming days,” the army said in an email.

The alleged shooting by the IDF took place during a violent protest along the border, in which Palestinian demonstrators burned tires and lobbed rocks at the security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip and at the soldiers on the other side. Troops responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and — in some cases — live fire.

“Warning calls are sounded to the rioters regarding the danger of approaching the security fence, using loudspeakers. The use of live fire is made only when forces identify a significant threat to the lives of the soldiers or to critical security systems,” the army said.

Palestinians carry the body of 29-year-old Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh during his funeral in Gaza City, on December 16, 2017, after he was killed during clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian rioters along the Gaza security fence the day before. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Abu Thurayeh was a regular feature at protests at the border.

In its statement, the army blamed the Hamas terrorist group, which controls the Gaza Strip, for the riots along the border.

“These riots are supported by the Hamas terror organization. Hamas sends civilians to the security fence and encourages violence against IDF troops. Any attempt to destroy the fence and cross it is considered a violation of Israeli sovereignty,” the army said.

Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh at the Gaza border on December 15, 2017. (YouTube screenshot)

Abu Thurayeh’s death drew international news coverage, and thousands attended his funeral in the Gaza Strip on Saturday.

The unmarried 29-year-old lived at home with his parents, and had been without regular work since a 2008 incident in which he lost his legs, according to the AFP news agency.

“He was injured in 2008 by an Israeli helicopter that targeted him after he brought down the Israeli flag and raised the Palestinian flag along the border,” his brother Samir told AFP after Abu Thurayeh’s death was confirmed on Friday. “It did not stop him from demonstrating for Jerusalem. He went alone every day to the border.”

In video footage recorded early on Friday, Abu Thurayeh could be seen carrying the Palestinian flag and waving the victory sign at Israeli soldiers across the border.

“I want to go there,” he said, referring to the other side of the border, as a number of young men surrounding him waved Palestinian flags and others threw stones towards the troops. “This land is our land. We will not give up. America has to withdraw its decision,” he said, in another video posted on social media.

According to the IDF, some 3,500 Palestinians protested along the Gaza security fence on Friday over US President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel’s capital.

Palestinians consider East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan — who had been occupying it since 1948 — in the 1967 Six Day War, as the capital of their future state. Trump said his declaration did not prejudge a final status agreement as part of a future peace deal, but Palestinians have been infuriated by the decision.

A few hours before his death, and despite having no legs, Abu Thurayeh climbed an electricity pole to raise the Palestinian flag, eyewitnesses and journalists present said.

A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to throw stones during clashes with Israeli security forces near the border fence with Israel, east of Gaza City on December 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

What happened after that remains unclear.

Several thousand Palestinians along the Gaza border threw stones at Israeli soldiers, with clashes lasting for several hours. Two men were killed, including Abu Thurayeh.

The Israeli military said there were “extremely violent riots” throughout the day. “Soldiers fired selectively towards main instigators,” an army spokeswoman said.

The Guardian quoted eyewitnesses who said Abu Thurayeh’s wheelchair had been pushed up to the fence, whereupon he climbed out of it and tried to crawl forward towards it, before being hit.

Abu Thurayeh was one of three Palestinians who were killed on Friday in clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank and Gaza. A fourth was fatally shot after stabbing an Israeli border police officer near Ramallah.

In the past week, over a dozen rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza. A number of them fell short, five were shot down by the Iron Dome defense system, and six struck Israel, two of which caused damage in the southern town of Sderot.

Hamas, the terror group which rules Gaza and seeks to destroy Israel, has called for a new intifada to liberate Jerusalem and urged Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers.

In a funeral address in Gaza on Saturday, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh praised Abu Thurayeh as a hero and a martyr, and vowed never to relinquish Jerusalem. “And I don’t mean East Jerusalem, but unified Jerusalem,” Haniyeh said, in footage screened by Israel’s Channel 10. “Not East Jerusalem and not West Jerusalem. Muslim. Muslim.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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