Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday phoned to comfort the parents of a soldier who was killed in a friendly fire incident in the West Bank earlier this week.
Staff Sgt. Nathan Fitoussi, 20, was shot dead by his comrade 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.
Lapid told Fitoussi’s parents that their “wonderful child united Israel,” and added: “The entire nation is crying with you.”
He said all Israelis are proud of Nathan “and feel we’ve lost a true warrior, Zionist and value-driven.”
More details about the incident emerged in the days after the fatal shooting that took Fitoussi’s life as the soldier who opened fire was interrogated by military officials as part of an investigation into the incident.
The soldier who shot him, who has only been identified by the initials of his name in Hebrew, Aleph Mem, fired eight bullets in total, some into the air as a warning, the Ynet news site reported, citing the initial probe.
After his first bullet hit Fitoussi, the wounded soldier kept running toward him, prompting Aleph Mem to fire again, hitting Fitoussi in the chest.
Fitoussi managed to say “it’s me,” before collapsing, the report said.
It was only then that Aleph Mem realized he had opened fire on his comrade and called his commanding officers, telling them, “I shot Fitoussi, I shot Fitoussi.”
Attorneys for Aleph Mem said he is cooperating with the probe and that on Wednesday night, he reenacted the shooting for investigators at the guard post where it happened.
But they also demanded that the investigation be halted and accused prosecutors of trying to physically and mentally wear him down until he says something that can be used against him.
The attorneys also lamented “inaccurate information” leaked to the press from the probe, saying it “damages the confidentiality of the operational investigation, damages the IDF’s ability to learn from future investigations, and damages the soldiers’ trust in the investigative institution.”
“We call on the media and the public on social networks to wait for the end of the investigation and to exercise the necessary restraint in these tragic circumstances,” they said.
According to the IDF’s preliminary probe into the killing, the shooting soldier followed the military’s open-fire procedures. These 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.
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.
Fitoussi was laid to rest at the Netanya military cemetery on Tuesday evening.
The Military Advocate General issued a statement on behalf of the soldier earlier in the week, saying he had “followed orders and instructions.”
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.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.