Army decides not to carry out inquiry in boy's death

Wednesday, November 14, 2001

RAFAH REFUGEE CAMP, Gaza Strip -- Eleven-year-old Khalil Mughrabi never came home after a soccer game with friends in an empty lot in this refugee camp.

He was killed after the game, hit in the head by a large-caliber bullet as he sat, his friends said, resting on a mound of sand.

In internal documents made public Tuesday by the Israeli human rights group Betselem, the chief Israeli military prosecutor wrote that it was "reasonable" to assume the fatal shots were fired from a machine gun mounted on an Israeli tank and that the shooting violated army regulations. The prosecutor, Col. Einat Ron, told Betselem she saw no reason for a military police investigation.

Betselem said the case may confirm its long-standing suspicion that the military is not conducting serious inquiries into Palestinian deaths.

"We fear that it is not an isolated case," said Yael Stein, research director at Betselem, which has investigated dozens of deaths of Palestinians by army fire. Stein said she believed the internal army documents were sent to Betselem inadvertently.

Mistake vs. violation

Lt. Col. Olivier Rafowicz, an army spokesman, did not question the authenticity of the documents but refused to address specifics of the case.

Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, would not comment on a specific case but noted a distinction between mistakes and violations. "If a soldier violates orders, he must be prosecuted," he said, but a mistake in the framework of a hostile situation would not lead to a conviction.

In 14 months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, 753 people have been killed on the Palestinian side, including hundreds shot dead by Israeli troops dispersing stone throwers or firing at gunmen.

The Israeli military is investigating 10 cases of Palestinians killed by army fire, Rafowicz said.

Throughout that day, July 7, Palestinians had been throwing stones and some fragmentation grenades at Israeli patrols near the border, and soldiers fired to disperse rioters, the army said at the time.

However, Ron, the military prosecutor, concluded no grenades or stones were thrown at about 7 p.m., when Israeli troops fired shots from a heavy tank-mounted machine gun toward Rafah.

Warning to rioters

Local officers said the tank fire was intended as a warning to rioters, but Ron wrote in the report that according to army regulations, warning shots must not be fired at children and must be fired only with light weapons, not a heavy machine gun.

Ron pointed out the difficulties of clearing the soldiers. "The consequences make it imperative that a military police investigation be conducted," Ron wrote. Yet in the letter to Betselem, Ron wrote that she did not believe such an investigation was justified. No reason for the contradiction was stated in the letter.

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