JERUSALEM — The Israeli army has launched an investigation into the shooting deaths of two Palestinian teenagers who took part in violent demonstrations at the Gaza border earlier this year.
On Tuesday, the judge advocate general ordered military police to look into the incidents involving Abdel Fattah Abdel Nabi, 18, and Othman Helles, 15, who were shot by Israeli forces covering the security fence as part of operations to counter the Palestinian “Great March of Return.”
The decision to open the probe was made after examining debriefings of Israeli troops present at the time “in view of the suspicion that the shooting was not in accordance with the rules of engagement,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. “Upon completion of the investigations, their findings will be examined by the Judge Advocate General’s Office.”
Abdel Nabi was killed in March at a part of the fence close near the city of Jabalya. Video of the incident posted to Twitter by journalist Raf Sanchez appeared to show the young man “shot in the back as he runs away from Israeli positions carrying a tire” during what the IDF characterized as a “violent riot.”
The IDF responded to the video by claiming that “Hamas distributes many different videos, including those that show only parts of events, edited and fabricated,” The Jerusalem Post reported. “Our forces acted according to the rules of engagement in a thoughtful manner, while refraining from harming civilians whom Hamas placed on the front lines in order to embarrass Israel while endangering those civilians.”
Helles was killed in July when he was shot in the stomach by Israeli soldiers who were said to be responding to attacks by rioters armed with grenades and other explosive and incendiary devices.
More than 160 Palestinians have been killed and thousands injured in clashes along the Gaza border since the end of March, when Hamas-led protesters attempted to breach the security barrier and enter Israeli territory. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has claimed that all of the Palestinians killed in Gaza since the end of March were members of Hamas. The IDF has said that while it believes the majority of those who died were members of Hamas, its troops have also accidentally killed civilians. A pregnant woman and a toddler were reported to have been killed last week during Israeli strikes against a Hamas target next to their home.
In April, a Gaza photojournalist was shot while wearing a flak jacket marked “press” while photographing the clashes. Liberman told reporters that Yaser Murtaj, who sold photos to numerous international outlets, was also a member of Hamas who was using his media business as cover to obtain drone footage of IDF positions.
But the Washington Post said that Murtaja had recently been vetted and approved for a U.S. government grant and that Liberman “did not provide evidence for the assertions.”
On Sunday, the High Court of Justice doubled the prison sentence of a border policeman who shot and killed an unarmed Palestinian teenager during a Nakba Day riot outside of Ramallah in 2014. He had previously been sentenced to nine months incarceration and a 50,000 shekel ($13,600) fine under a plea deal.
Last week, the IDF shut down an investigation into August 2014 clashes in the Gaza city of Rafah during Operation Protective Edge in which three soldiers and dozens of Palestinians were killed.