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IDF officials reject claims soldier in Hebron feared bomb

Palestinian assailant had already been checked for explosives, sources say, and soldier did not follow procedures for such concerns before opening fire

Israeli soldiers and police surround the bodies of two Palestinians who had wounded an Israeli soldier in a knife attack in the West Bank city of Hebron, March 24, 2016. (AFP/Hazem Bader)
Israeli soldiers and police surround the bodies of two Palestinians who had wounded an Israeli soldier in a knife attack in the West Bank city of Hebron, March 24, 2016. (AFP/Hazem Bader)

Top Israeli military officials on Saturday night rejected assertions that a soldier who shot an incapacitated Palestinian attacker in the head was right to do so as he feared the man could be wearing an explosives vest, saying an officer had checked the assailant minutes earlier and confirmed that he was not.

The statements could pull the rug from under the soldier’s main line of defense after Thursday’s fatal incident. The soldier’s attorney has claimed he feared the assailant had an explosive vest hidden under his shirt and could have used it to kill the people surrounding him.

But an IDF probe has shown that an officer confirmed that the assailant was no longer a threat immediately after he was first shot, officials told Ynet news.

The soldier arrived on the scene only several minutes later, when the situation was already under control. He did not confer with his superiors before abruptly shooting dead the Palestinian man as he lay on the ground, the army’s investigation indicated.

A military source speaking to Channel 2 added that even if the soldier believed the man was carrying a bomb, shooting him was not the procedure. If such suspicions exist, soldiers must first fall back and call on adjacent soldiers to do the same, actions the soldier did not take.

At any rate the orders are not to shoot at the suspect, “as this risks causing [any suicide bomb belt] to explode,” he said.

The source also rejected claims by the soldier’s family that he was being “lynched” by officials.

“There is no lynch or anything of the kind,” he said. “The investigative bodies are handling the case.”

The Palestinian was one of two stabbers who attacked troops near the Tel Rumeida neighborhood in Hebron, wounding one soldier. The two assailants were shot. One was killed on the spot.

A video then shows the soldier cocking his weapon and approaching the wounded man. He is partially blocked from view by other members of his unit when the shot is fired. However, the impact of the bullet can be seen. The Palestinian man can then be seen bleeding from the head.

The soldier’s family had claimed earlier that he was being lynched in the media and said Israeli leaders were too quick to judge him before he had had an opportunity to defend himself.

At a press conference at the family’s home in Ramla in central Israel, the soldier’s sister, who had earlier in the day accused Israeli leaders of stabbing her brother in the back, said he was being subjected to a public court-martial.

“All that’s left is to execute him,” she said. “From the moment the video was publicized he has become an enemy of the state.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, said he “trusts the IDF to carry out a comprehensive, responsible and fair probe, as it always does,” into the soldier’s actions.

Meanwhile Channel 2 news reported that the soldier had expressed far-right views in the past, including posting a Facebook statement in support of slain extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.

On Friday, the Jaffa Military Court extended the soldier’s remand until Tuesday. Military investigators told a judge that the soldier was suspected of murder.

(Video contains graphic images)

The soldier, from the Kfir Brigade, confirmed to court Friday that he had carried out the shooting, and repeated his earlier statement that he believed the Palestinian had been wearing an explosive vest and therefore posed an ongoing danger.

The soldier’s lawyer, Eyal Beserglick, also said that his client had acted out of the belief that the Palestinian had an explosive device.

On Friday, supporters of the soldier posted a video online of the moments before the shooting, which they said showed the soldier’s stated concerns were reasonable. In the video, rescue crews are shown moments before the shooting, with the conversation clearly focused on the possibility that the stabber continued to constitute a threat to those around him.

And yet, the original video clearly shows many soldiers and medical officials milling around the wounded assailant in the moments before the shooting, with no indication that they were concerned over such a possibility.

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