Lawyers call to halt probe of soldier in suspected friendly fire killing

Military Advocate General says shooter in ‘mental distress’ after killing fellow soldier Nathan Fitoussi, as IDF investigators try to determine how deadly error occurred

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Family and friends attend the funeral of IDF soldier Nathan Fitoussi, who was killed by friendly fire near the West Bank city of Tulkarem, August 16, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Family and friends attend the funeral of IDF soldier Nathan Fitoussi, who was killed by friendly fire near the West Bank city of Tulkarem, August 16, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Lawyers representing an IDF soldier who accidentally shot and killed his comrade earlier this week demanded on Wednesday a halt in the ongoing investigation, citing his “mental distress” following the tragic incident.

The Military Advocate General demanded that Military Police stop the interrogation of Sgt. “Aleph Mem” due to the “lack of sleep and stress he is under.” The soldier is only being identified by the initials of his Hebrew name.

The advocate general charged that the interrogation is being conducted in a “scandalous” and “unfair” manner.

Staff Sgt. Nathan Fitoussi, 20, was shot dead by Aleph Mem in the Kfir Brigade late Monday, after apparently being misidentified upon returning to a guard post along the West Bank border barrier near the Palestinian city of Tulkarem.

According to the IDF’s preliminary probe into the killing, the shooting soldier followed the military’s open-fire procedures. Those include shouting at a suspect to halt, firing into the air and only using deadly force if the soldier feels threatened.

Fitoussi told his comrades in a guard position near Tulkarem that he was going to pray and would return a short while later. But when he returned, his comrade “shot him after an arrest procedure, which included shooting into the air and at the legs,” military spokesperson Ran Kochav told Kan public radio on Tuesday morning.

Staff Sgt. Nathan Fitoussi in an undated photograph published by the military on August 16, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The two were standing several meters apart during the late-night shooting, according to the initial probe. Fitoussi was shot twice, and it was unclear why he was misidentified as a threat.

According to an unsourced Channel 12 news report on Tuesday, one of the possible explanations being investigated is that Fitoussi had heard Aleph’s yells, thought they were directed at a different suspect and was running to help him.

The probe is seeking to determine how the fatal misunderstanding unfolded, why the shooter identified Fitoussi as a suspect when he knew Fitoussi had left to pray and was due to come back, and why Fitoussi hadn’t stopped or followed his comrade’s orders to identify himself.

Fitoussi’s parents harbor no resentment toward the soldier who fatally shot their son, a family friend told reporters Tuesday.

“The family has no anger toward the soldier who shot. Not only are they not angry with him, they even feel sorry for him and I have no doubt that they would want to meet him,” said Meir Fitoussi, a close friend of the deceased soldier’s father.

Family and friends attend the funeral of IDF soldier Nathan Fitoussi, who was killed by friendly fire near the West Bank city of Tulkarem, on August 16, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Fitoussi was laid to rest at the Netanya military cemetery on Tuesday evening.

IDF spokesman Kochav said the shooting soldier was cooperating with the ongoing investigation. “We will take care of him and try to understand what went through his mind and why this mistake was made,” he said.

The Military Advocate General issued a statement on behalf of the soldier earlier in the week, saying he had “followed orders and instructions.”

“This is a heartbreaking tragic event, in which our client’s best friend lost his life. He wishes to send his sincere condolences to the family for their heavy loss,” the statement said.

According to Army Radio, the IDF assigned an officer to accompany the shooting soldier and “to try to help him cope with the incident.”

Earlier this year, two IDF officers from a commando unit were killed in a friendly fire accident at a base in the Jordan Valley in the West Bank.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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