An Israeli undercover squad shot dead an off-duty Palestinian security man at point-blank range during a daylight raid on Ramallah in what Mustafa Barghouti, Palestinian information minister present at the scene, on Wednesday described as an extrajudicial execution.
Uniformed soldiers then fired into the body of Mohamed Abdul-Halim, 24, and kicked him to make sure he was dead, according to witnesses who have given statements to a local human rights organisation.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli military, which did not circulate its customary written statement on the incident, said in answer to questions that the Israeli squad “identified an armed man who was posing a threat to the force and fired at him”. The spokeswoman would not say whether the dead man was a specific Israeli target.
Lieutenant Halim belonged to Force-17, an official security unit loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah president. A spokesman for the presidency said he was on leave at the time.
The witnesses said Lt. Halim was in civilian clothes, wore a holstered service weapon and was carrying an AK-47 as he left the Nazareth restaurant in the West Bank city’s main shopping street at around 5.45pm on Tuesday afternoon.
Samer Burnat, a taxi driver, said his vehicle was forced to a halt by a white van with Palestinian plates. “The rear doors burst open. There were uniformed Israeli soldiers in the back. They shouted at the man to stop but instantly opened fire as he turned away from them. They hit him once in the back of the head and once in the neck.”
He insisted Lt. Halim made no attempt to use his weapons and had his back to the Israelis when they opened fire.
Lt. Halim’s body displayed two bullet wounds to the back of the head and others to his back and rear left leg. Doctors determined he had been shot 24 times. Mr Burnat has signed an affidavit with the al-Haq human rights organisation whose Ramallah offices overlook the scene of the shooting.
Israel has resumed airborne targeted assassinations against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket attacks. It has also stepped up operations in the West Bank in which suspects alleged to be members of the Fatah-linked al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades have been killed.
The Ramallah operation was unusual in that it took place in broad daylight in a busy street within yards of high-profile eyewitnesses.
Dr Barghouti, an independent member of the Palestinian Authority coalition cabinet and head of a medical charity, was in nearby offices when shooting broke out.
“What happened is very contradictory with the Israeli story,” he told the FT. “He was trying to get away. There was no exchange of fire.”
The information minister, whose car was hit by Israeli fire, added: “The Israeli army decided this person must die and acted as judge and executioner.”
Hassan Fattouh, employee of the Nazareth restaurant, said Mr Halim was a regular customer. The undercover squad’s van was parked outside the premises as he left with a companion. Israeli undercover personnel in civilian clothes put on police baseball caps as they left their vehicles and covered their faces.
Bystanders were bundled into nearby premises, or handcuffed in the street. The Israelis left with backup from military vehicles and under cover of gunfire and smoke grenades. Seven bystanders suffered injuries.
Al-Haq, supported by European funding, is collecting evidence in the case. Frank Wall, its legal researcher, said that in five fatal shootings since the start of the year, al-Haq had yet to receive a response from the Israeli military to its calls for inquiries.