Video exposes Israeli troops’ indifference towards settlers’ violence
JERUSALEM - The Israeli army said on Monday it was investigating an incident that was exposed by two video clips in which troops appeared to stand by without intervening as settlers shot at Palestinians.
The shooting incident took place on Saturday afternoon during stone-throwing clashes between settlers from the hardline Yitzhar settlement and Palestinian villagers from Asira al-Qibliya near Nablus.
The footage, which shows a Palestinian being shot by two settlers in the presence of at least three soldiers, was captured by a volunteer for the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.
The apparent indifference of the soldiers was widely covered by the Israeli press and was condemned by the Palestinian government in Ramallah.
In response, the army said troops had arrived at the scene to break up a violent confrontation in which both sides were throwing stones at each other.
"During the confrontation, live fire was used; the incident is currently being investigated by the division commander," a military statement said.
"That said, it appears that the video in question does not reflect the incident in its entirety," it added, without elaborating.
In one of the clips, two settlers with M-16 assault rifles can be seen opening fire at a stone-thrower in a green shirt who collapses onto the ground after being hit in the head.
In the second clip from a slightly different angle, a third settler can be seen firing with a pistol towards the stonethrowers as three soldiers stand close by doing nothing.
B'Tselem filed a complaint with the police, urging them to prosecute the gunmen, and also with the military police calling for an investigation into suspicions the soldiers "did not adhere to their obligation to protect Palestinians from settler violence."
"The video footage raises grave suspicions that the soldiers present did not act to prevent the settlers from throwing stones and firing live ammunition at the Palestinians," the rights group said in a statement late on Sunday.
"The soldiers did not try to remove the settlers and in fact are seen standing by settlers while they are shooting and stone throwing."
The Palestinian Authority called on Israel to treat the incident "seriously and to open a fair investigation to bring the assailants to justice."
"The gravity of the footage lies not only in the settlers' provocations and shooting live ammunition towards unarmed residents, but also in the irresponsibility of the Israeli soldiers who stood watching the events without trying to stop the settlers," a statement said.
And it urged the international community to pressure Israel "to act firmly and promptly against the settlers' extremism, their deadly attacks, and the incitement against the Palestinians."
Palestinian witnesses said the incident occurred when dozens of settlers attacked the village throwing stones and provoking residents who threw stones back.
But Yitzhar spokesman Avraham Binyamin said the incident began when the settlement's emergency response team, which had gone to put out fires "lit by Asira residents," was attacked by "hundreds of rioters who threw stones at them."
He said the footage accurately showed the "barrage of stones at the emergency response team, while they were shielding the firefighters, two of whom were wounded by stones earlier in the event."
He said it was "obvious" that the team had only used weapons as the result of "a life-endangering situation."
The two video clips can be seen on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgeQzvIirvQ&feature=relmfu and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90__-IUNfIM&feature=relmfu