JERUSALEM — A Palestinian teenager returning from a fun night out at a swimming pool was fatally shot by Israeli soldiers early Tuesday in what the Israeli military said appears to have been a mistake.
A statement from the Israeli army said three civilians were injured and multiple cars were damaged overnight after Palestinian youths hurled rocks and firebombs at people traveling on Route 443. The road, which connects Israel’s main airport to Jerusalem, runs partially through the West Bank and is frequently a site of rock-throwing incidents.
“Nearby forces acted to protect further civilians from being injured and pursued the suspects. From the initial inquiry, it appears that uninvolved bystanders were mistakenly hit during this pursuit,” the army said.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli army, said an investigation is underway.
The incident occurred after more than eight months of shooting, stabbing and vehicular attacks by Palestinians that have killed 33 Israelis and four foreign nationals, including two Americans. More than 180 Palestinians have been killed, more than half while carrying out attacks against Israelis and the rest in clashes with Israeli troops.
Although the level of violence has dropped significantly over the past two months, tensions remain high. Two weeks ago, two Palestinians opened fire on civilians at a popular spot in Tel Aviv, killing four Israelis.
The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the dead teenager in Tuesday’s attack as Mahmoud Raafat Badran, 15, a resident of the West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Tahta. Four other Palestinian teenagers traveling with him were injured, and one is in critical condition.
Palestinian news media reported that the teens were on their way from a late-night swim in the village of Beit Sira when they were shot. It is currently the holy month of Ramadan, and Muslims are required to abstain from food and drink during daylight. Many of the holiday’s social activities take place at night.
Ahmed Shami, a cousin of the dead teen, said that the family is in shock.
“It is the summer and it’s Ramadan. People leave the village to go to the pool in Beit Sira. They were coming back between 1:15 a.m. and 1:30 a.m., and suddenly Israeli forces started shooting at their car. No one asked them to stop or asked them for ID,” Shami said.
He said the family is waiting for the Israeli army to return Mahmoud’s body so he can be buried immediately, in accordance with Muslim traditions. In recent weeks, Israelis have said that they would not return bodies of Palestinians who carry out attacks because the funerals often lead to further violence and tension. Palestinians deem this collective punishment.
Shami said Mahmoud and his cousins were only returning home from swimming in the pool.
The Palestine Liberation Organization released a statement calling the incident a “brutal attack.”
“This cold blooded assassination reaffirms our calls to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, to initiate an immediate extensive investigation into Israel’s extrajudicial killings of Palestinians; particularly children,” the Palestinian governing body said in the statement.
The three civilians injured in the rock-throwing incident reportedly included two tourists from Britain and Belgium. They were treated in a nearby hospital, Israeli media reported.
Israeli forces have faced criticism at home and abroad that they have responded to some of the attacks with disproportionate harshness. In the international arena, some have accused Israel of carrying out extrajudicial killings of Palestinians.
In March, an Israeli soldier was caught on camera fatally shooting an injured Palestinian attacker, who had been disarmed after he stabbed another soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron. The soldier who carried out the shooting, Elor Azaria, is on trial on charges of manslaughter and conduct unbecoming of a noncommissioned officer.