The IDF has questioned eight soldiers in connection with the death of a Palestinian man killed while trying to attack troops last week, as a video released Wednesday appeared to raise new questions about how the Jericho man was killed.
Yassin al-Saradeeh, 35, died on February 22 after clashes in the West Bank city of Jericho, where soldiers had gone to make arrests.
The army said military police have opened an investigation into the incident.
Video released Wednesday by the B’Tselem rights group showed troops beating Saradeeh as he lay on the ground after being shot at by a soldier. He is then dragged into an alley and was only evacuated from the area for medical treatment 25 minutes later, according to B’Tselem.
Initial blurry footage, released within hours of the incident and obtained by filming what was on the screens of security cameras on stores in the area, showed Saradeeh running at an Israeli soldier brandishing a metal rod to which something — possibly the metal rim of a tire — was attached.
A soldier could then be seen stepping out and shooting at him — the flash is clearly visible — but the military said the shot apparently went wide and missed him, though the Palestinian dropped to the ground anyway.
The IDF has subsequently claimed that Saradeeh died of tear gas inhalation.
However, coroners at Tel Aviv’s Abu Kabir Forensic Institute said after an autopsy, also attended by a Palestinian doctor, that the cause of death was gunfire, according to an official Palestinian account.
The soldier who fired the shot told investigators he opened fire after fearing for his life, according to a report on Hadashot news Wednesday night.
“There was a feeling that our lives were in danger….A Palestinian with a sharp iron pipe was running towards me. I felt threatened. I carried out the rules for arresting a suspect. I couldn’t see if I’d hit him, and he fell. And then additional soldiers arrived and together we brought him under control. In his pants, we found a knife.”
Channel 10 news quoted the soldier who opened fire as saying he was not sure if he hit the man.
Another soldier involved in the incident was quoted by Hebrew media saying he “didn’t see the discharge of a shot.”
B’Tselem also called into question an army spokesman’s claim that Saradeeh had tried to steal a soldier’s gun.
In the footage, Saradeeh can indeed be seen raising his arm, but according to B’Tselem, this was as likely to protect himself from the soldiers’ blows.
The soldiers can also be seen dragging Saradeeh into an alley on his stomach, where he does not appear to move at all. Different soldiers bend down over him, one of his shirts is pulled back, revealing another underneath, and torches are shone on the area of his stomach. It is not clear whether the soldiers are checking for wounds or for weapons, or talking to him. There is no sign of blood on the shirt underneath, although the video quality is very poor.
After tear gas from outside enters the alleyway, Saradeeh is dragged out and later footage sees him being loaded into an army jeep.
“The army spokesman changed his version about what happened several times,” a statement from B’Tselem said. “In his first statement, he said Saradeeh, who was armed with a knife, attacked the soldiers and tried to take their weapons and that during his arrest he was injured and received medical treatment.
“In a later announcement on the same day, it was written only that Saradeeh ‘tried to attack the force, which responded with gunfire, confronted the terrorist from close range and managed to stop him’ and that later, a knife was found on him.
“The next day, the army said Saradeeh had evidently died from inhaling tear gas after which an autopsy said he’d died from gunshot to his stomach and may have died from blood loss, but still the army claimed that medical staff that had treated him had not seen signs of gunshots to his stomach.”
The organization described the incident as “one of the most serious” that had taken place in the West Bank. “Soldiers kick a severely injured person on the ground and beat him with their weapons on his head, upper body and groin. They then drag him on the ground along the alley, as if he were not a human being, and fail to give him the necessary medical treatment for more than half an hour after shooting him.”
An army spokesman said the military’s investigation division was continuing to investigate the incident.
It was B’Tselem video camera footage which made public the shooting to death of an incapacitated Palestinian terrorist by an Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, in the West Bank city of Hebron in March 2016.
After a highly controversial court case which split the country, Azaria was sentenced for manslaughter to 18 months prison and subsequently had his sentence reduced to 14 months.
The Saradeeh case also comes as the army and a Palestinian family are at loggerheads over the cause of injuries suffered by a teenager, Mohammed Tamimi.
Palestinians on Tuesday produced medical records to show that the 15-year-old was injured by a rubber bullet shot by troops and not be falling off his bike, as an Israeli general claimed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.