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Two Palestinian teens killed amid outrage over West Bank arson attack
- Laith al-Khalidi, 15, died Saturday of gunshot wounds he sustained the previous day during clashes with Israeli soldiers at the Atara military checkpoint in the West Bank. (Photo: AFP / Abbas Momani)
- Israeli soldiers shot dead Mohammad al-Masri, 16, on Friday in northern Gaza near the border fence with Israel. (Photo: Al-Masri family)
Ramallah, August 1, 2015—A Palestinian teenager died today of gunshot wounds he sustained on Friday during clashes with Israeli soldiers at the Atara military checkpoint near the West Bank town of Birzeit. Protests erupted in the West Bank over the death of a toddler in an arson attack by suspected Jewish settlers.
The shooting took place on the same day that Israeli soldiers killed another Palestinian teenager near Gaza’s northern border with Israel. The quick succession of events marked the deadliest period for children so far this year.
“Impunity for soldiers and settlers perpetuates injustice and provides a license to kill Palestinian children with complete disregard for human life,” said Khaled Quzmar, general director of Defense for Children International – Palestine. “When Israeli officials routinely fail to hold perpetrators accountable for violence against Palestinian children, they share direct responsibility for the deaths.”
A witness at the Atara checkpoint told DCIP that around 5:30 p.m., he saw a group of about 15 Palestinian youths running away from the Israeli military watchtower. One of them, Laith Fadil al-Khalidi, 15, fell to the ground approximately 100 meters (328 feet) from the watchtower. Another youth helped the wounded teen to a private car nearby, according to the witness. Laith died overnight at the Palestine Medical Complex in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Palestinian Justice Minister Saleem al-Saqqa said an autopsy showed the teenager had sustained a gunshot wound that entered the middle of his back and exited the top right side of his stomach, the Palestinian news agency Maan reported.
An Israeli army spokesperson said that soldiers shot the Palestinian youth after he threw a firebomb at them.
“International law permits the use of lethal force only when an imminent deadly threat exists, and yet evidence in several cases points to Israeli forces shooting Palestinian children in the back,” said Brad Parker, attorney and international officer at DCIP. “Such incidents suggest Israeli soldiers may have committed deliberate unlawful killings.”
Violence often occurs at the heavily militarized Israeli checkpoints dotted throughout the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, where the presence of soldiers creates tension and leads to clashes between civilians and the military.
Laith is the third child killed by Israeli forces near a military checkpoint in the West Bank this year. In July, a senior military officer shot dead Mohammad Sami Ali Kasba, 17, from a distance of about 15 meters (49 feet) near Qalandia checkpoint, the main entryway between Ramallah and Jerusalem. In April, Israeli forces killed Ali Abu Ghannam, 17, at the East Jerusalem Zayyem checkpoint following an alleged altercation with soldiers.
Also on Friday, Israeli soldiers shot Mohammad al-Masri, 16, around 6:20 p.m. in northern Gaza near the border fence with Israel.
Mohammad’s friend said they went to the buffer zone near the border fence with another friend to picnic. DCIP obtained footage from Mohammad’s friend that shows the teenager smashing a surveillance camera on the fence, and then fleeing when two Israeli military jeeps approached. Shortly after, Mohammad returned to the same area with another group of Palestinian youth and soldiers stationed nearby fired at them, according to his friend.
The bullets struck Mohammad’s shoulder and left waist, and he lay bleeding profusely for 20 minutes before his friend could reach him.
“I noticed an Israeli soldier standing 50 meters (164 feet) away on the other side of the fence,” Mohammad’s friend told DCIP. “After a while, I felt helpless and decided to carry Mohammad back to the nearby farm.”
Doctors at Kamal Odwan hospital in the nearby town of Beit Lahia declared the teenager dead shortly after his arrival.
DCIP has documented three other cases of children shot by Israeli forces near the border fence this year.
On July 17, Mansur Abu Tima, 13, sustained a gunshot wound to his left leg while walking by the fence near the southern Gaza town of Khuzaa.
In June, Israeli soldiers wounded Ibrahim Abu Raida and his cousin Islam Abu Raida, both 16, in their lower limbs as they stood 150 meters (490 feet) from the fence near the southern city of Khan Younis.
The third incident took place in April when Fadi Misbah, 16, sustained two gunshot wounds in his upper and lower limbs. He was participating in a demonstration near Khan Younis and about 200 meters (656 feet) from the Israel-Gaza border.
Israel maintains complete control of Gaza’s border in part by implementing an “access restricted area” or buffer zone inside Gaza along the fence. Israeli forces routinely target individuals approaching areas near the border fence with live ammunition.
In a report published in March 2015, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that five Palestinian deaths, including a child, and 131 injuries occurred near the Gaza border with Israel in 2014.