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Investigation: Five Palestinians Killed in Tul Karm Raid Noncombatants

by Jon Elmer

Sept. 13, 2005 – An investigation into an August 24 raid by Israeli forces in the West Bank city of Tul Karm has found that all five Palestinians killed in the incident were unarmed noncombatants and were not senior Islamic Jihad "terrorists," as the army had originally claimed.

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According to the results of the investigation led by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, in cooperation with Ha’aretz newspaper, three of those killed – Anas Abu Zeina, Mohammed Othman, and Mahmoud Ahadib – were 17-year-old high-school friends who happened to be present when the operation took place, not wanted militants.

The other two killed in the raid – Adel Abu Khalil, 28, and Majdi Atiya, 18 – were described as low-level activists and not "senior Islamic Jihad operatives… engaged in preparing explosive devices," as the official Israel Defense Forces (IDF) statement claimed following the attack.

Indeed, Atiya was not known to be a member of any resistance faction and Abu Khalil is reported to have left Islamic Jihad some time ago and had recently turned himself in to the Palestinian Authority, according to Ha’aretz.

The Tul Karm attack took place one day after the final settlers were evacuated from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s "disengagement" initiative.

The IDF had claimed that the five were the planners and "accessories" involved in two bombings inside Israel. One bombing, in Netanya in July, killed five Israeli civilians and a soldier and wounded more than 80 people. The other bombing, outside a Tel Aviv nightclub in February, also killed five, four of whom were members of an "elite" IDF unit on leave, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post.

According to witness testimonies, the Tul Karm assault happened in a largely enclosed courtyard after soldiers leaped from a vehicle with Palestinian license-plates. According to one anonymous witness who owns a store adjacent to the scene, soldiers then "sprinted toward the concrete structure next to the courtyard where the fatalities occurred and began shouting. Seconds later they opened fire," the witness told B’Tselem investigators.

"The IDF calls such operations ‘arrest’ attempts, but if you look at the witness statements, there is no serious attempt to bring these people back alive," B’Tselem spokesperson, Sarit Michaeli, told The NewStandard. "As we have said before, such methods raise grave suspicions of execution," she added.

According to B’Tselem data, since the beginning of 2004 at least 89 Palestinians have died during so-called arrest operations.

Witness testimonies also refuted IDF claims that the soldiers shot only after taking fire.

Major discrepancies between the IDF explanation and witness accounts are far too common, said Michaeli. "In this case and many others," Michaeli said, the army tends to quickly publish biased assertions. She cited an official statement in Hebrew following the Tul Karm raid, in which the IDF stated that "none of the five were innocent bystanders" and all were referred to as terrorists.

"They release the incriminating information and it is published before people have time to look into the details. By the time details emerge, it is far too late and the case is long gone," Michaeli added.

In response to the joint B’Tselem-Ha’aretz investigation, an IDF spokesperson reiterated that four of those killed were "terrorist operatives," but that it was not yet possible to attribute "terrorist" status to the fifth victim. Still, IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz responded by publicly admitting an operational error and announcing that a special inquiry will be conducted into the attack.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Jon Elmer is a contributing journalist.

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