Two Palestinians — including a 15-year-old boy — were killed by Israeli forces today, amid rapidly escalating tensions in the occupied West Bank caused by the disappearance of three young Israeli settlers last week, and the massive military manhunt to find them.
Mohammad Jihad Dudeen was killed by a single bullet this morning in Dura, near Hebron, where the three teen settlers went missing. Protests in the area have intensified since thousands of Israeli soldiers raided the region — along with other areas of the West Bank — and rounded up hundreds of people.
Eyewitnesses said that clashes erupted between local residents and soldiers as the latter raided a series of homes in the village during their week-long crackdown on Palestinians in the area. Dudeen is the sixth Palestinian child to be killed by Israeli forces since the start of the year, according to Defence for Children International, which investigated the shooting.
In the video and images below, shared on Palestinian media, medics show the boy's fatal injuries and bullets shot in the area.
The video below, which VICE News cannot independently verify, shows Israeli soldiers firing stun grenades and live ammunition at Palestinian youths throwing rocks, reportedly in the same area where Dudeen was killed.
The operation — which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have dubbed "Brother's Keeper" — marks the largest military escalation in the West Bank since the Second Intifada of the early 2000s. It is also the largest Israeli military offensive since Operation Cast Lead, undertaken in Gaza between 2008 and 2009.
Over the last days, as the raids have intensified, so have the protests against them — many involving Palestinian youth.
Israeli authorities maintain that Hamas is behind the alleged kidnapping of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel, but many Palestinians and observers have denounced the search as an excuse to undermine a recent unity deal between Hamas and Fatah, and to remove the last supporters of Hamas from the West Bank.
A spokesperson for the IDF told VICE News that Dudeen's killing came as soldiers responded to a "life-endangering threat."
"During early morning activities in Dura to apprehend a Hamas terrorist, IDF faced sporadic but substantial confrontations. The riot included IED's, Molotov cocktails and boulders that were hurled at the forces, in cases endangering their lives and impeding on the mission," she said. "The forces responded to the life-endangering threat with live fire and used riot dispersal means to address the disturbances onsite."
Over the past several days, as the raids have intensified, so have the protests against them — many involving Palestinian youth.
"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 DCI-Palestine, told VICE News. "The war crimes, including the unlawful killing of two teens in Beitunia last month, that Israel stands accused of will not end as long as it perpetuates a violent military occupation that allows inequality and injustice to flourish."
DCI-Palestine is also investigating the shooting of three other Palestinian children, some hit by rubber-coated bullets and some by live ammo, during the protests.
Meanwhile, a 22-year-old Palestinian died of his injuries Friday after being hit by Israeli gunfire in a protest near Qalandiya checkpoint, between Jerusalem and Ramallah. And earlier this week, a 20-year-old Palestinian was killed during a raid on the Jalazoun refugee camp, near Ramallah.
More than 355 people have been arrested since the search for the missing settlers went underway. Among them were a number of Hamas affiliates in the West Bank, and 53 former prisoners who had been released in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011.
Overnight, the Israeli Air Force also launched a series of strikes targeting sites in Gaza. According to the IDF, the strikes were in response to rockets fired into Israel from Gaza and intercepted by Israel's "Iron Dome." DCI-Palestine said that five children were injured in those strikes, including a 25-day-old baby.
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