JERUSALEM — Israeli soldiers fatally shot an unarmed Palestinian man who approached them at a West Bank checkpoint Sunday. The army said he had been holding a bottle and was shot according to the military’s rules of engagement.
The shooting underscored simmering tensions in the West Bank as peace efforts remain at an impasse.
Palestinian witnesses and a military spokeswoman gave differing accounts of the incident, which the Israeli army said was under investigation. The dead man was identified as Ahmad Maslamani, 24, a farm laborer who worked at nearby Israeli settlements.
The shooting occurred at an army checkpoint on a road linking the West Bank city of Nablus to the Jordan Valley. Palestinian witnesses said travelers pass through the checkpoint by first crossing a turnstile and then going through a metal detector.
Abdallah Sbeitan, a farmer who was at the scene, said in a telephone interview that Maslamani had passed through the metal detector, emptying his pockets, and then mistakenly turned left instead of right to leave the checkpoint area. “A female soldier starting screaming, and soldiers, one behind her and another near a concrete barrier, opened fire from about five meters away,” Sbeitan said.
Sbeitan said Maslamani was empty-handed, but Rashid Sawafta, a driver who was standing nearby, said in a telephone interview that he heard the female soldier loudly question Maslamani and heard him reply that he was carrying a bottle of water. “She screamed, ‘Bottle!,’ in Hebrew, and then I heard gunfire.”
The military spokeswoman said Maslamani approached “from an unauthorized lane holding a glass bottle” and ignored orders to halt. He “came to stand several meters away from the soldiers, who then operated according to the Israel Defense Forces rules of engagement and fired towards him.”
Palestinian medical officials who received the body from the army said Maslamani had been shot in the chest, hand and leg. Sbeitan said soldiers made no attempt to treat the wounded man.
Israeli military checkpoints, which control Palestinian movement in the West Bank, are frequent flash points of tension, with Palestinians often complaining of humiliation and harsh treatment by troops, who are on guard for possible attacks.
In other violence Sunday, Israeli aircraft attacked targets in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, wounding two Palestinians, medical officials said. The military said it had struck a “Hamas terror activity center in northern Gaza and a weapons manufacturing facility in central Gaza” in response to a rocket strike on Israel on Saturday.
As peace efforts remain stalled, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday that he is ready to sit down with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for one-on-one talks until they reach a peace deal. “If Abu Mazen agrees to my proposal to directly discuss all the substantive and core issues, we will know very quickly if we can reach an agreement,” Netanyahu said, using Abbas’s nickname.
Netanyahu was responding to a statement by Abbas that a peace deal could be reached within two months if Netanyahu showed “goodwill.”
Direct talks faltered in late September after Israel ended a 10-month freeze on new construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Abbas has insisted that Israel must halt all settlement construction before the negotiations can resume.
Greenberg is a special correspondent.