IDF: Soldiers didn’t intentionally kill double amputee in Gaza riot
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'No live fire was aimed at Abu Thurayeh,' army says

IDF: Soldiers didn’t intentionally kill double amputee in Gaza riot

Army says it's not sure how Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, who reportedly lost his legs in a 2008 Israeli airstrike, was killed, but finds no 'moral or professional failures'

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Wheelchair-bound Palestinian demonstrator Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, waving a Palestinian flag during a protest along the Gaza-Israel border on December 15, 2017, as clashes with Israeli security forces against Washington's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital intensified. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Wheelchair-bound Palestinian demonstrator Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, waving a Palestinian flag during a protest along the Gaza-Israel border on December 15, 2017, as clashes with Israeli security forces against Washington's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital intensified. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

The army on Monday evening said soldiers did not intentionally shoot a disabled Palestinian man, Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, who was killed in a riot along the Gaza security fence on Friday, though it could not determine his cause of death.

Since Abu Thurayeh’s death, Palestinian officials have said that the man, a double amputee who reportedly lost both his legs in a 2008 Israeli airstrike, was killed by Israeli sniper fire during the protest.

The army’s investigation did not seem to completely rule out that possibility, but did indicate that Abu Thurayeh was not specifically targeted.

“No live fire was aimed at Abu Thurayeh. It is impossible to determine whether Abu Thurayeh was injured as a result of riot dispersal means or what caused his death,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

The death of the disabled man sparked angry denunciations by Palestinians and others, who said he could not have represented a serious threat during the Friday protests.

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 protesters along the Gaza security fence the day before. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

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

Following news of Abu Thurayeh’s death and allegations that it was caused by IDF gunfire, the army announced on Sunday it was launching an investigation into the case. The results were presented to the head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, on Monday.

“The initial investigation indicates that no moral or professional failures were identified,” the army said.

Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, head of the IDF Southern Command, delivers a warning message to the Hamas terrorist group on December 10, 2017. (Screen capture: Israel Defense Forces)

“Maj. Gen. Zamir stated that the commanding officers took proactive positions during the entire riot. He also noted that troops showed restraint in the use of force. This, in order to protect the sovereignty of the State of Israel, to prevent infiltration and harm to security infrastructures.”

The military said it was hindered in its investigation by the fact that Palestinian authorities did not share the details of the double-amputee’s injuries from the demonstration.

“Despite numerous IDF requests for information, no precise details or conclusions regarding Abu Toriya’s (sic) injuries were received. If additional details will be received, they will be examined and studied,” the army spokesperson said.

In its statement, the military said that the demonstration on Friday “was extremely violent and included thousands of rioters.”

The army said that soldiers mostly used crowd dispersal weapons — tear gas and rubber bullets — against the protesters, but that in some cases live fire was used.

Though these riot dispersal means are meant to be less lethal than standard bullets, there have been numerous cases of people being killed by rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, as well as from complications connected to inhaling tear gas.

“Few controlled shootings were carried out towards main instigators. Troops received approval prior to shooting each round by a senior commander in the field,” the army said.

Palestinian protester runs for cover from tear gas during clashes with Israeli security forces near the border fence with Israel, east of Gaza City on December 15, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

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

In a statement on Sunday, the army blamed the Hamas terrorist group for the border riots. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has been urging Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers in a new intifada following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“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.

The unmarried 29-year-old Abu Thurayeh 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.

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

“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.

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.

According to the IDF, some 3,500 Palestinians protested along the Gaza security fence on Friday over Trump’s controversial December 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ultimately move the American embassy to the holy city.

Palestinians consider East Jerusalem, captured by Israel from Jordan — which 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.

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.

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.”

AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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