US welcomes Israeli investigation of checkpoint shooting

A military source says four suspects attacked soldiers at West Bank checkpoint with Molotov cocktails Wednesday, leading soldiers to open fire, killing two of them

US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Victoria Nuland (photo credit: US Department of State)
US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Victoria Nuland (photo credit: US Department of State)

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said her country looks forward to hearing the results of an Israeli investigation into the deaths of two Palestinians killed by soldiers at an IDF West Bank checkpoint on Wednesday.

Amer Ibrahim Nassar, 17, and Naji Belbisi, 18, died of gunshot wounds after reportedly throwing Molotov cocktails at an IDF checkpoint near the Palestinian village of Anabta, near Tulkarem and the settlement of Einav.

“Our understanding is that this tragic incident is being investigated now by Israeli authorities. We look forward to the results of that investigation. And again, we make the call that we’ve been making for some time, that both sides, all sides, have to refrain from provocative action, have to refrain from violence and set an environment that is conducive to peace,” said Nuland in a press briefing on Thursday.

Asked whether the US trusts the Israeli government to do its own investigation, Nuland replied that “this is the standard and appropriate procedure in an incident where there is a question about whether conduct was appropriate.”

“We do the same thing on the US side with regard to our own soldiers,” Nuland added.

The IDF announced it had launched a preliminary investigation into the incident on Thursday. Initial findings determined that the soldiers acted in accordance with IDF rules of engagement, though further examination is required to determine whether the use of live ammunition could have been avoided.

According to the IDF, a half-hour before the Wednesday incident the soldiers stationed at the checkpoint identified four armed Palestinians who were approaching them. In response, the soldiers prepared for a possible engagement by loading their weapons with live ammunition and rubber bullets.

One of the Palestinians hurled a Molotov cocktail at the soldiers, who then immediately opened fire on the Palestinians.

One Palestinian was killed and the soldiers then chased after the three remaining suspects, who fled on foot. The soldiers continued firing, killing a second suspect and lightly wounding a third. The fourth suspect managed to escape.

A soldier was also injured in the incident and was taken to a nearby hospital. There was no report of his condition.

“This was a planned attack on a position that has already been assaulted in the past,” a senior source in the Central Command told Ynet. “The force encountered real danger during the chase and that is why shots were fired. The incident lasted only a few seconds and we have a detailed record of the chain of events,” he added.

Thousands participated in the Thursday morning funerals of the two Palestinian teenagers, which took place near Tulkarem. The two deaths will likely stoke already heightened tensions in the West Bank, where low-level violence has been raging since the death of prisoner Maysara Abuhamdia of cancer on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Palestinians rioted in the West Bank city of Hebron as thousands of mourners attended the funeral of the prisoner. Dozens of rioters pelted IDF troops with rocks, while Israeli vehicles were stoned along roads in the area. Security forces responded with crowd-control methods, including teargas.

Abuhamdia was laid to rest in a full military funeral conducted by the Palestinian Authority.

Sporadic incidents of stone-throwing and rioting were also reported at other locations in the West Bank. Near the settlement of Yitzhar, some 100 Palestinians threw rocks and clashed with troops. Near Ramallah, two Israelis, a male police officer and a civilian woman, were lightly injured by rocks.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday blamed Israel for escalating violence in the West Bank, citing as evidence the deaths of the two teenagers near Tulkarem.

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