Israel says no evidence troops killed Palestinian paraplegic in 2017 Gaza riot

Army closes investigation into killing of Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, whose death drew international attention

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 Israeli army on Friday closed a criminal investigation into the death of a paraplegic Palestinian man shot during clashes on Gaza’s border with Israel in 2017, saying the probe found no evidence that its soldiers fired the fatal bullet.

The army said 29-year-old Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh was killed in a “violent riot” to which troops responded by opening fire toward the lower body parts of “main instigators.” It said the investigation found Palestinians threw improvised explosives, Molotov cocktails and rocks at troops on that day.

As part of its investigation, the military said it tried to obtain the bullet that killed Abu Thurayeh, but authorities in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip denied its request.

Witnesses at the time said no gunfire came from the Palestinian side. Palestinians and human rights groups claimed he was shot by an Israeli sniper.

Wheelchair-bound Palestinian demonstrator Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, waving a Palestinian flag during a clashes along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel on December 15, 2017. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Abu Thurayeh, hailed as a symbol of heroism by Palestinians for persistently raising a Palestinian flag from his wheelchair at demonstrations, died of bleeding in his brain after a bullet struck his head, according to medical records obtained by The Associated Press. The same findings were detailed in a report by the Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance service reviewed by the AP.

The reports did not specify who fired the bullet or what caliber it was.

The Israel Defense Forces had announced it was opening the investigation just days after Abu Thurayeh’s death. At the time, it said an initial probe concluded that he was not killed by Israeli sniper fire, and found that no live round had been explicitly aimed at him, but failed to determine the exact cause of death.

The IDF has maintained the demonstration on December 15 “was extremely violent and included thousands of rioters,” who threw rocks and rolled burning tires at the security fence itself and the soldiers on the other side of it.

A Palestinian uses a sling shot to throw stones toward Israeli security forces during clashes near the border fence with Israel, east of Gaza City, on December 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

The protest came amid a wave of violence that erupted in the Palestinian territories after US President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital and said he would move the US embassy there. Hamas, the terror group that controls the coastal enclave and seeks to destroy Israel, had urged Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers, and allowed thousands of Gazans to clash with Israeli troops at the border fence.

Abu Thurayeh was a well-known figure in Gaza. While relatives have claimed Abu Thurayeh lost his legs in an Israeli airstrike while trying to rescue people, The Associated Press reported that its records show that he was wounded on April 11, 2008, in a clash between Israeli forces and Palestinian operatives in the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza. AP television footage from that day shows Abu Thurayeh identifying himself, as he is taken away on the back of a pickup truck.

His story drew international news coverage, and thousands attended his funeral in Gaza.

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