B'Tselem: Probe four operatives' death

Rights group suspects IDF acted "as though on an assassination mission," against High Court orders.

shehada 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
shehada 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The human rights organization B'Tselem on Thursday called on the army and the attorney-general to investigate the killing of four members of the Islamic Jihad organization during an alleged arrest operation earlier this month in Bethlehem, calling the action a deliberate and unjustified targeted killing. The organization also called for an investigation into the demolition of the home of one of the Palestinians five days earlier. An army spokeswoman said the IDF was looking into the matter. "The facts indicate that the operation in which the four suspects were killed failed to meet the criteria that the state and the security forces presented to the High Court of Justice, whereby targeted killings are not the rule, but the exception, chosen where there is no alternative to them," wrote B'Tselem research director Avi Berg. "It appears that the objective [of the operation] was to kill the suspects from the start." The four Palestinians, Muhammad Shehadeh, Ahmad Bilbul, Imad a-Kamal and Issa Marzuq Zawahreh were shot and killed by IDF soldiers, a special force of the Border Police and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) while riding in a car in Bethlehem. The security forces opened fire from behind and apparently killed three of the passengers immediately. The driver, Kamal, managed to get out of the car and was shot in the leg after exiting it unarmed and then hit by a hail of gunfire. According to B'Tselem, the Israeli force did not issue any warning or call to stop, as required in an arrest operation. Although three of the men were armed, "B'Tselem's information raises a grave doubt that the security forces' lives were in actual danger." Even if they were, B'Tselem continued, the shooting should have been incremental, beginning with gunfire not intended to kill but to disable the suspects. But the shooting lasted only two or three minutes and a large number of bullets were fired at the suspects during that time, indicating that the force was shooting to kill. A member of the Israeli detail then fired a bullet into the head of each suspect to confirm the killing, it said. B'Tselem also quoted from a newspaper article contending that Defense Minister Ehud Barak knew about the operation before it was carried out and that it had been approved by the top command including O\C Central Command Maj.-Gen. Gad Shamni and Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. B'Tselem also complained that Shehadeh's home was demolished five days before he was killed, even though he had rarely stayed there for many years. The demolition was allegedly meant to punish Shehadeh's wife and seven children for refusing to tell the army where he was. The family was left homeless and without possessions.