Israeli troops shot and killed two Palestinians today, making a total of five deaths in 10 days since Israel launched a massive military manhunt to recover three missing Israeli teens.
One of the victims, Ahmed Saoud, 27, was shot by Israeli troops at dawn as he walked to a mosque in the Al-Ein refugee camp. The man's father told the Associated Press his son was mentally ill.
In a separate incident, Mohammed Ismail, 31, was killed in clashes between Palestinian protesters, the IDF and Palestinian police — where both sides exchanged gunfire, according to witnesses. An autopsy later confirmed Ismail died from an M-16 bullet wound in the shoulder. Palestinian spokesman Adnan Damiri said that their troops do not carry M-16s.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting today that the deaths occurred as a result of self-defense actions taken by Israeli troops.
“We have no intention of deliberately harming anyone but our forces are acting as necessary for self-defense," he said. "From time to time there are victims or casualties on the Palestinian side as a result of the self defense actions of our soldiers."
Israel's leader had previously blamed Islamist militant group, Hamas, for kidnapping the three Israeli boys, including a dual US citizen.
Following the disappearance, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) immediately launched a large-scale military operation — dubbed "Brother’s Keeper" — to recover the missing teens near Hebron, a Hamas stronghold in the West Bank, and surrounding villages.
The IDF has since raided around 1,600 sites associated with militant activity in the West Bank and arrested at least 350 Palestinians, many among them members of Hamas.
On Friday, another two Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops as they stepped up the search for the missing teens. A 15-year-old was shot during raids on the Jalazoun refugee camp near Ramallah, while a 22-year-old man later died of gunshot wounds he sustained during a protest near Qalandiya checkpoint, between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Earlier in the week, a 20-year-old Palestinian was killed during a separate raid on the Jalazoun.
Observers have denounced the kidnappings of the three male teens, but have warned against further violence against civilians, especially children.
"Israeli forces have increasingly resorted to the use of excessive force, recklessly firing live ammunition and rubber-coated metal bullets at civilians, including children," Ivan Karakashian, an advocacy officer at Defence for Children International Palestine, which documents settler violence against children, told VICE News.
“Any Palestinian armed groups unlawfully holding three Israeli teenagers should release them immediately and unconditionally,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement last week. “Israeli forces searching for the three should respect the laws of war with respect to the Palestinian population in the occupied territory and not carry out mass, arbitrary arrests.”
Hamas, which is branded as a terror organization by Israel and the West, has hailed the kidnappers as "heroes," but stopped short of claiming responsibility.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that Netanyahu has "no credible information" to support his claims.
"When Netanyahu has such information, he needs to update me and we will take care of the matter according to our own laws," Abbas told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Netanyahu said at his weekly cabinet meeting that Israel had “unequivocal proof” Hamas perpetrated the alleged kidnappings, which will be released publically in due course.
But critics fear that Israel could be using the abductions as a smokescreen to dismantle Hamas in the West Bank, and undermine to the newly formed Palestinian unity government that Abbas brokered in April with Hamas, which governs the Gaza strip.
“It’s quite clear, when you consider the amount and scale of arrests, that there is something larger going on,” Gavan Kelly, advocacy coordinator at Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner support and human rights association based in Ramallah, told VICE News. “Israel has stumbled upon a golden opportunity.”
Protests by angry Palestinians, many throwing stones or flowerpots, have intensified as the raids and search for the missing teens continues. There is also increasing ire directed at the Western-backed Abbas, who, at the urging of the US, is cooperating with Israeli forces to search for the missing Israelis.
Several dozen Palestinians marched down the streets of Ramallah today chanting, "Why, why security coordination? We get hit once by the Palestinian Authority and once by the Israeli army," according to the Associated Press.
The missing teens identified as Eyal Yifrah, 19, from Elad, Gil-Ad Shaer, 16, from Talmon and Naftali Frenkel, 16, from Nof Ayalon, are seminary students at a Jewish settlement bloc.
They were thought to be hitchhiking to the city of Modi'in when they went missing on June 12, according to local media.
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