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Rights groups: Palestinian teen posed no threat when killed by Israeli forces

Oct. 5, 2016 6:35 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 25, 2016 7:52 P.M.)
Abd al-Rahman al-Dabagh using a slingshot several hours before he was killed. (Photo: B'Tselem)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Investigations by human rights groups into the killing of a 15-year-old Palestinian by Israeli forces last month east of al-Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip have revealed that the boy did not pose a threat when he was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier with a flare at close range, after the Israeli army denied responsibility for his death altogether.

Defense for Children International - Palestine (DCIP) said in a report released Tuesday that protests on Sept. 9 near Israel’s border fence in the central Gaza Strip had been raging since 2:30 p.m., with Israeli forces firing live ammunition, tear gas canisters, and flares at demonstrators.

Abd al-Rahman al-Dabbagh, 15, and other Palestinian youth were throwing stones as well as unactivated tear gas canisters previously fired by Israeli forces at the protesters.

“Around 7 p.m., an Israeli soldier on the other side of the border fence knelt down and fired a flare cartridge directly at Abd al-Rahman,” an eyewitness told DCIP. The flare hit the boy in the forehead above his left eye, setting him on fire and killing him.

The flare, which remained lodged in his forehead, fractured his skull.

According to the witness, al-Dabagh was approximately 15 to 20 meters from the border fence when he fell to the ground engulfed in flames.

The Israeli army told Ma’an at the time they were not responsible for his death, claiming soldiers had only been firing tear gas in order to disperse the “violent riot.”

Meanwhile, Israeli rights group B’Tselem revealed the results of their investigation into the killing on Wednesday, corroborating DCIP reports that Israeli soldiers had fired live ammunition, stun grenades, and flares at protesters, in addition to the tear gas.

A screenshot from video footage shows Abd al-Rahman al-Dabagh, 15, lying on the ground with flames and smoke rising from his head. (Photo: DCIP)

A witness described to B’Tselem the events leading up to al-Dabagh’s killing: “The soldiers fired two flare bombs directly at us. The bombs hit the fence and started a fire. Shortly after 7 p.m., a soldier took a few steps and came up to the fence, put the barrel of his rifle through it, and fired a flare bomb straight at Abd al-Rahman. The bomb hit his head. He immediately fell to the ground and his face kept on burning.”

As the witness approached al-Dabagh, one of the soldiers reportedly told him in Arabic: “Get back or I’ll shoot you.”

After taking two steps forward, the soldier shot at him.

Another witness told B’Tselem that al-Dabagh had raised his hands above his head and took a few steps back before the soldier shot him with the flare.

The soldiers finally let protesters approach al-Dabagh after the fire on his face burned out. They carried him to a Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance, which evacuated al-Dabagh to Shuhada al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah, where he was pronounced dead.

“B’Tselem’s investigation found that the soldier fired the flare at al-Dabagh at a time when he posed no threat to the soldiers, who were standing on the other side of the perimeter fence, well protected.”

Video footage obtained by B’Tselem and DCIP showed flames and smoke rising from the boy’s head, with at least seven Israeli soldiers visible beyond the border fence. The incident took place while there was still adequate daylight, the video shows, making use of the flare unnecessary.

The flare that struck al-Dabagh, recovered by DCIP, is equivalent to a consumer firework in terms of its hazard level and is designed to illuminate an area of 200 meters (656 feet) in diameter, or to mark a military target on the ground. The flare has a built-in four to five second delay before the flare ignites and then burns for approximately 40 seconds.

The flare bomb that the soldier fired at al-Dabagh, killing him. (Photo: B'Tselem)

“Flares are not a crowd control measure,” B’Tselem said in their report. “Their function is to illuminate dark areas or send a message to other units. They may only be fired in the air aimed high, so they can illuminate the area. They certainly may not be fired directly at protesters.”

"Israeli forces routinely misuse 'less-lethal' weapons and projectiles to directly target Palestinian children, killing and injuring them with impunity," DCIP's report quoted Ayed Eqtaish, the organization's accountability program director, as saying. "Rampant disregard for international law combined with no accountability ensures the situation will continue to deteriorate for Palestinian children.”

According to Ma’an documentation, al-Dabagh was among 23 Palestinians, including four minors, to be killed by Israeli forces during clashes in the Gaza Strip since last October, when protesters began gathering every Friday at border areas in the Gaza Strip to show solidarity with what Palestinians in Gaza have termed the “Jerusalem Intifada” taking place in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In a single day on Oct. 6 , 2015, six Palestinians were shot dead by the Israeli army during demonstrations in Gaza.

The so-called “buffer zone” where al-Dabagh and protesters have been killed was unilaterally declared a “no-go-zone” by Israel in 2005, “illegally restricting Palestinians from accessing their own lands,” DCIP noted.

“The exact range of the buffer zone is unclear and Palestinians often only know they have strayed into the buffer zone when Israeli soldiers across the border fence fire at them.”

Both B’Tselem and DCIP highlighted in their reports the culture of impunity reserved for Israeli forces who kill Palestinians, noting the unlikelihood that the Israeli soldier who killed al-Dabagh be held accountable.

“Accountability for shootings by Israeli forces is extremely rare, and Israel routinely defends or denies using lethal force against children,” said DCIP, while B’Tselem affirmed that “if an investigation does take place, experience shows the chances of it leading to any substantive results are extremely low.”

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