3D analysis shows how Israeli troops fired into group of civilians
In an incident last month that left two Palestinians dead, troops shot at least 14 times in four seconds while civilians would have been visible.
Israeli security forces in an armored vehicle fired repeatedly into a group of civilians sheltering between a mosque and a clinic after a Feb. 22 raid in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, killing two people, including a teenager, and wounding three others, according to witnesses and a visual reconstruction of the event by The Washington Post.
The Post spoke with two witnesses to the shooting, obtained previously unpublished videos of the incident from a bystander and the Israel Defense Forces, and had audio experts analyze the gunfire. A Post reporter collected visual evidence at the scene to reconstruct the incident using 3D modeling software, and reporters also reviewed more than 30 videos filmed in Nablus that day.
The Post reconstruction shows that, while responding to what they claimed was a gunman, Israeli forces fired at least 14 times from inside their armored vehicle as it moved down a street and then came to a halt next to a short wall behind which the civilians huddled. The Israelis continued firing even after those people would have been visible from the vehicle’s windows, the analysis shows.
“It was a black Wednesday,” said Farid Shaaban, the father of 16-year-old Mohammad Shaaban, who was killed as he waited for a ride home after school. “For Nablus and for my personal history, my family.”
The Israeli military declined to answer detailed questions about the incident but said that soldiers at the scene said a man had fired at their vehicles before running toward the clinic. An Israeli military official said the matter is “under examination.”
Israeli forces killed at least 11 people during and after the raid, including several Palestinian fighters, and wounded 102, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry and social media posts by Palestinian armed groups. The raid came amid a rise in deadly Israeli military incursions unseen in the occupied West Bank since the end of the most recent Palestinian uprising in 2005.
Recent shootings of civilians by Israeli forces have alarmed human rights and advocacy groups, several of which called the events a result of soldiers being given impunity for unlawful violence against Palestinian civilians.
Israeli forces killed 71 Palestinians in the West Bank, including 13 children, between Jan. 1 and March 7, according to the last available figures provided by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Israeli forces killed 146 Palestinians in the West Bank in 2022, and 75 in 2021. At least 14 Israelis have been killed in attacks by Palestinians so far this year.
An official for the Israeli military said their forces do not deliberately target civilians, fire only as a last resort and abide by international law.
The Feb. 22 raid of a house in Nablus began around 9 a.m. and involved 150 members of the Israeli military, border police and internal security service, according to the Israeli military. The operation targeted two members of an armed group called the Lions’ Den and a member of Islamic Jihad who were planning to carry out attacks against Israelis in the “immediate future,” the military said. Israeli forces killed all three men during the rare daylight raid, which set off hours of violence around the city center.
About a third of a mile from the house, the spreading violence stranded several civilians at the Rahma Clinic, on the main road running through Nablus and adjacent to al-Haj Maazouz Mosque. Among those present were the two killed: Shaaban and 65-year-old retiree Abdelaziz Ashqar. Injured were 36-year-old chauffeur Asaad Najjar, 22-year-old Mohammed Samaaneh and a vegetable seller who could not be reached for an interview.
Shaaban, who loved learning languages, had just finished school, his father said. Unable to find a safe ride home, the teen had called his father and was waiting to be picked up. Ashqar, a former employee of the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency, had come to the mosque for the afternoon prayer, said his son, Elias. Najjar, who had been driving students to school earlier that day, said he had parked his car nearby to wait for things to calm down and avoid wafting tear gas. Samaaneh, a recent college graduate, had been at the clinic for an examination with a dermatologist, said his father, Hazem. The vegetable seller worked in the area.
A video shot by Najjar at 12:09 p.m. shows Israeli armored vehicles maneuvering in the distance and Palestinian men setting up barricades.
Around 1 p.m., as Israeli forces began to withdraw from the city, a patrol of several vehicles moved toward the clinic and the mosque, looking to head off any armed fighters, a military official said. Having read about a withdrawal on social media, Shaaban, the four men, and a handful of other civilians gathered near the street.
At 1:02 p.m., Farid Shaaban said, he received the call from his son, telling him where to pick the boy up.
What happened next was captured in three videos. Two were previously unpublished — one from a bystander and the other filmed by the Israeli military from inside one of its vehicles. The military posted a partial clip on Twitter on the day of the raid but later provided The Post with an extended version that included the shooting.
At 1:03 p.m., the bystander, standing in a clinic window, began filming the street. In the video, five Israeli armored vehicles pass by. People on the street pelt them with rocks and other objects. About 45 seconds later, more Israeli military vehicles begin to pass, the first an MDT David light armored vehicle and the second a Wolf armored personnel carrier roughly 100 feet behind. A member of the Israeli military filmed the scene from inside a vehicle behind the Wolf.
As the vehicles passed, Firas Masry, a 50-year-old man living in an apartment building across from the clinic, began to film the third video from several floors above. The video was first geolocated by Gabòr Friesen, a student at Leiden University College, and Chris Osieck, a Dutch human rights researcher.
Audio from the videos captures two initial bangs, the second of which can be heard as a man on the sidewalk is seen extending his arm toward the passing Israeli vehicles. The videos reviewed by The Post do not clearly show whether the man had a gun or fired, and none of the witnesses interviewed by The Post said they saw a gunman fire at the Israelis.
Video shows the man on the sidewalk running toward and ducking through a gate, onto a staircase between the mosque and clinic where the group of civilians is sheltering.
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To reconstruct the incident in 3D, The Post synchronized all three videos and took more than 1,000 additional photos of the location.
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Troops in a Wolf armored vehicle can shoot while looking through either a window or a firing port. An Israeli military official declined to say what they did in this incident.
The Post used a commercially available computer model to map the complete perspective visible from both of the Wolf’s side windows, which are covered by protective grates.
The Post also analyzed the perspective from the vehicle’s firing ports, which indicated that a soldier aiming through them would have had a similar, but more restricted, view.
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As the man moves through the gate into the group of civilians, Israelis shoot from the vehicle. Audio from the videos captures at least 14 gunshots within four seconds, according to two forensic audio experts who analyzed it.
The Post modeled the view from the windows of the Wolf armored vehicle the entire time it was shooting and found that civilians remained in the view for the duration that shots are heard. Here are three detailed moments at the beginning, middle and end of this video to show what would have been visible through the Wolf’s smaller windows.
Israeli forces start shooting from the vehicle.
The 3D reconstruction shows that the man who ran from the sidewalk and ducked behind the wall would not have been clearly visible from either window.
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Israeli troops continue to shoot as a civilian moves directly across the gateway and the Wolf slows in front of the staircase.
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As the vehicle stops, civilians behind the wall remain visible. Israeli forces continue firing.
To help assess the Israeli soldiers’ claim that a gunman fired on the convoy, The Post sent audio from the videos to Lawrence Abu Hamdan of Earshot, whose audio investigations have been used as evidence at the U.K. Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, and Steven Beck, an audio forensic expert who consulted for the FBI for more than a decade. Beck said he did not believe that two bangs The Post identified preceding the fire from the armored vehicle were gunshots. Abu Hamdan said that every shot heard was “highly likely” to have been fired from the Wolf armored vehicle.
Najjar, the chauffeur, was hit by shrapnel from the gunfire. He said he saw shots hit Ashqar and heard Shaaban yelling that he’d been hit.
Najjar said his own decision to step down the staircase a moment earlier probably saved his life. “I did, but they couldn’t do it on time,” he said. “It was clear that it was shoot to kill.”
Najjar said that even after decades living with Israeli military incursions, the shooting shocked him.
“I believed that it was going to be an ordinary withdrawal of the army,” he said.
An ambulance transported the five victims to An-Najah National University Hospital, where Shaaban and Ashqar were pronounced dead around 20 minutes after the shooting. Shaaban had been shot in the left shoulder and left upper arm, and Ashqar had been shot in the abdomen, according to medical reports reviewed by The Post.
16-year-old Mohammed Shabaan (top) and 65-year-old Abdelaziz Ashqar (bottom) were killed as an Israeli armored vehicle fired at least 14 shots into a group of civilians gathered in a staircase outside of a clinic. (Courtesy of the Shaaban and Ashqar families)
“That place is in the middle of the city,” Shaaban’s uncle, Alaa, said. “The Israeli army was shooting on a city, the middle of a city, at such an hour. What’s to be expected?”
A military official said the decision to shoot is up to the soldier in the field. It appeared that “in this case they decided the right thing to do was to thwart the threat that they faced and that’s the decision they took,” the official said.
But “it’s impossible to be accurate” shooting from a moving vehicle and especially dangerous to do so in an urban environment, said Ori Givati, the advocacy director for Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli army veterans who served in the Palestinian territories and oppose the occupation.
Givati said that “constant political pressure from ultranationalist leaders,” including some who are now government ministers, as well as the lack of repercussions for killing innocent Palestinians, have created a permissive environment for Israeli soldiers.
Brian Castner, a crisis researcher with Amnesty International, said that without further research he could not make a conclusive determination about the shooting, but in operations such as the raid in Nablus, Israeli forces are obligated by international human rights law to use force as a last resort and only when there is an imminent threat to life. Castner, who reviewed the videos, said that because of the protection afforded by the armored vehicles, there did not appear to be an immediate threat.
Brad Parker, a senior adviser at Defense for Children International-Palestine, who also reviewed the videos, said that “unlawful killings have become the norm, suggesting that Israeli military rules of engagement have shifted over the past few years to permit live fire where no threat is posed to Israeli forces in complete contravention of international law.”
Israeli forces in heavily armored vehicles fired “with complete disregard” to the Palestinian civilians standing nearby, Parker said.
An Israeli military official said that soldiers face “terrorist incidents and violent riots on a daily basis,” don’t target civilians intentionally and use live fire only after “exhausting all options” and in compliance with international law. Killings are subject to criminal investigations “unless the activity was of real combative nature, or if there is no suspicion of IDF soldiers committing a criminal offense,” she said.
Medical staff at An-Najah National University Hospital working that day told The Post they were overwhelmed with patients.
One of the nurses at the hospital was Elias Ashqar, the son of Abdelaziz Ashqar. Elias helped treat incoming casualties and brought medical tools to a doctor trying to resuscitate a man. After the man was pronounced dead, Elias was stunned when he finally saw his patient’s face.
“I knew it was my father, but from the shock I lied to myself, I told myself it can’t be true,” he said.