JOSEF FEDERMAN, AP, March 27, 2008
JERUSALEM - An Israeli human rights group on Thursday demanded a criminal investigation into the military's killing of four Palestinian militants earlier this month, citing witness accounts that the men were gunned down in a summary execution.
Israeli troops killed the militants in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on March 12, riddling their car with bullets. One was a local Islamic Jihad commander who Israel said was involved in planning suicide bombings.
The Israeli army frequently conducts raids in the West Bank to round up wanted Palestinian gunmen. At the time of the Bethlehem raid, it described the incident as an arrest operation. The official military statement on March 12 said special forces "identified several Palestinian gunmen in a vehicle. The force fired at them and identified hitting four gunmen." It did not say the militants fired at the Israelis.
B'Tselem said that based on the witness accounts, "the lethal operation did not have the markings of an arrest operation, and no attempt was made to arrest the suspects rather than kill them, as required by law."
Although witnesses said the militants were armed, B'Tselem said the wanted men did not try to use their weapons, and said the shooting appeared to violate Israeli court rulings allowing the targeted killing of militants only if they cannot easily be arrested.
Israeli military officials said they were looking into the allegations.
B'Tselem released testimonies gathered from three witnesses, including relatives of the dead men. Each gave a similar account, saying the four wanted militants were ambushed while sitting in a parked car.