Israel: Shooting of female Palestinian medic unintentional
JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military on Tuesday said the fatal shooting of a female Palestinian paramedic in the Gaza Strip last week was unintentional, an admission that added new fuel to a debate over the army’s open-fire policies.
Razan Najjar, 21, was shot last Friday while trying to evacuate wounded people during a mass demonstration near the Israeli border. Najjar, a volunteer paramedic, had been treating a wounded protester shortly before she was shot and was wearing a white medical vest that identified her as a health worker.
Announcing the results of an initial examination, the military said “a small number of bullets were fired during the incident, and that no shots were deliberately or directly aimed toward her.”
It said the investigation was continuing, and the results would be passed to the military advocate general.
Over 115 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 3,700 more wounded during near-weekly protests along the Israeli border, according to Palestinian health officials. The vast majority of casualties have been unarmed, with journalists, medics, teenagers and two women among the dead.
Israel has come under heavy international criticism for its use of live fire. The EU and United Nations have accused Israel of using excessive force, while rights groups say Israeli rules of engagement are illegal because forces are using deadly fire on unarmed protesters when their lives are not in imminent danger. A local U.N. official called Najjar’s shooting “reprehensible.”
Israeli military officials blame Hamas for the bloodshed. They say the group has used the demonstrations as cover to carry out cross-border attacks and endangered protesters by using them as human shields.
Yet officials have also admitted to shooting people unintentionally, blaming the crowded terrain and Hamas’ tactics for what they call “mistakes.”
Ashraf Najjar, the woman’s father, rejected Israeli explanations, saying the army has “no credibility.”
“It’s the dirtiest army in the world,” he said. “We don’t rely on their investigations and their conclusions are baseless. Instead, we call for an international investigation.”
The protests are aimed at drawing attention to the decade-long Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the territory imposed after Hamas seized control of the territory.
The blockade, meant to weaken Hamas, has caused widespread economic hardship and despair in Gaza. The protesters are also demanding the “right of return” to ancestral homes lost during the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948.
Demonstrators have hurled burning tires and thrown firebombs at the border fence, and flown flaming kites into Israel, undermining Hamas claims that they are nonviolent.
The kites, laden with burning rags or small explosives, have been especially difficult to stop.
On Tuesday, a senior Israeli official called on the military to kill Palestinians who launch the kites as well as Hamas commanders in Gaza.
The comments by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan reflected the growing concern and frustration over Israel’s inability to stop a wave of fires in Israeli border communities set off by the kites.
“I expect the army to treat those who launch these kites just like any other terrorist,” Erdan said.
Israel has carried out dozens of targeted killings of wanted militants in Gaza, particularly during the second Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s. But it has largely halted the practice since a 2012 war. Human rights groups and other critics say the strikes are illegal extrajudicial killings.
The Israeli military had no reaction to Erdan’s comments.
Israel’s high-tech army, which has found solutions to shoot down incoming rockets and destroy underground attack tunnels, has not been able to figure out a way stop the simple kites.
Some 200 have floated across the border, torching over 2,000 acres (809.40 hectares) of farmland. On Tuesday, a large fire erupted next to a college in the border town of Sderot, covering the campus in smoke. No injuries were reported.
Also Tuesday, Israel’s Shin Bet security service said it has uncovered a Palestinian plot to target Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It said a resident of a Palestinian refugee camp in east Jerusalem was among those in custody for his involvement in the plot, orchestrated from Syria, to harm Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
It said Mahmad Rashdeh had also collected intelligence for a Syrian handler to target the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and visiting Canadian officials. It said the plan involved sneaking in an operative from Jordan and “significant terrorist activity” was foiled.
Barkat said he was kept in the loop throughout the investigation and had not changed his routine.
There was no immediate comment from Netanyahu.
Associated Press writer Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, contributed reporting.