Washington urges probe into Nakba Day killings

US, UN demand explanations after video seemingly shows two unarmed Palestinian teens shot dead by IDF last week

By Adiv Sterman,

The US called on Israel Tuesday to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation into the deaths of two Palestinian teenagers shot during clashes with the IDF in the West Bank last Thursday, after video emerged apparently showing them unarmed during the incident.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said her office was seeking additional information from the Israeli government in order to determine whether the soldiers’ use of force was justified.“We look to the government of Israel to conduct a prompt and transparent investigation to determine the facts surrounding this incident, including whether or not the use of force was proportional to the threat posed by the demonstrators,” Psaki said, adding, “we are encouraging the government of Israel to conduct their own investigation.”

Israeli military officials said Tuesday they had been investigating the incident since Thursday, and had also opened a military police investigation. Preliminary findings indicated no live fire had been used by the IDF, they said.

The two Palestinian youths, aged 16 and 17, were killed during clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops outside Ramallah during a Nakba Day protest last Thursday.

The video, posted by Defense for Children International’s Palestine division Tuesday, ostensibly shows the two walking near a gas station and then being shot.

Earlier Tuesday, PLO spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi said the shooting was done “in cold blood” and called for an investigation.

Psaki expressed her condolences to the families of the deceased and urged all parties to exercise restraint.

The UN Security Council also issued a statement calling for an “independent and transparent investigation” over the teens’ deaths and urged Israel to ensure “its security forces strictly adhere to the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.”

UN Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco told the Security Council’s monthly Mideast briefing: “It is of serious concern that initial information appears to indicate that the two Palestinians killed were both unarmed and appeared to pose no direct threat.”

Responding to the video, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Tuesday that the Israeli troops had faced violent protests and petrol bomb attacks, and acted “as appropriate” given that “they were in a situation where their lives were in danger.”

Ya’alon said that he had not yet viewed the footage, “but I’ve seen lots of films that were edited [to distort what had happened]. This film I’ve not yet seen, but I know the system.”

The surveillance video starts with footage, time-stamped at 1:38 p.m., of the clashes near a gas station outside of Ofer Prison, in which a group of Palestinians are running for cover. One of the Palestinians is in the act of slinging a rock.

The next piece of footage, time-stamped 1:45 p.m., appears to show a Palestinian getting shot as he walks by the gas station after the clashes have subsided. A second Palestinian appears to be shot at 2:58 p.m., after which people rushed from the gas station to his aid, followed by cameramen.

The video named the two fatalities as Nadeem Siam Nawara, 17, and Mohammad Mahmoud Odeh, 16.

An Israeli military source told The Times of Israel that the CCTV footage had been edited down from hours of violent protests to two minutes of footage that did not convey the violence that took place.

“Last Thursday, there were a number of violent protests in Judea and Samaria. In the Betunia area, a violent demonstration took place, involving around 150 Palestinians which included incidents of tire-burning and rock-throwing,” the army said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“Security forces in the area used riot dispersal means to restore calm. Later in the day, it was reported that two Palestinians died as a result of these security operations. A preliminary investigation determined that live fire was not used by security forces. The incident remains under investigation. The video clip which was released today has been edited, and doesn’t document the full extent of the event, nor does it reflect the violent nature of the riot.”

A Palestinian man interviewed in the video said that at the time of the shootings, there was nobody throwing stones and that the youth had moved back behind the gas station. He added that he heard four shots of live ammunition that he was sure had come from the direction of the lot outside the eastern side of the prison.

Palestinian witnesses at the scene said the two had been killed by live ammunition.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said it had obtained medical opinions regarding the entry and exit wounds found in the bodies of the two dead Palestinians and two other injured protesters “which are completely consistent with injuries caused by live fire and could not have been caused by rubber-coated metal bullets – especially not when fired at a relatively long range, as was the case here.” It said it would transfer all the material at its disposal to the Military Police Investigations Unit.

Israeli Channel 2′s military correspondent Roni Daniel suggested that the film may have been staged and faked. Daniel noted that the first alleged victim put out his hands to break his fall, which did not appear consistent with being shot. Daniel further noted that the two alleged fatalities, ostensibly filmed an hour apart, appeared to have taken place in almost exactly the same place, with an immediate convergence on the scene of a similar group of people. His queries were not about whether two Palestinians had been shot that day, Daniel said, but rather about whether the NGO footage being disseminated indeed actually showed such shootings or was fabricated.

Times of Israel Staff, AP and AFP contributed to this report.

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