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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 December, 2004, 15:31 GMT
Israeli unit banned over killing
Palestinians attend the funeral of Mahmoud Kamil.
Mahmoud Kamil was shot dead by Israeli soldiers
The Israeli army has suspended an elite unit from duty while it investigates the killing of a Palestinian militant during a raid in the West Bank.

The army had said the man had been shot whilst fleeing from his hiding place.

This was contradicted by an Israeli human rights group's inquiry that found the man had been killed whilst lying injured and unarmed on the ground.

Israel's army chief, Gen Moshe Yaalon, said on Tuesday he was troubled by signs that commanders had lied.

"If we lose the moral high ground, it will undermine our military strength," he said.

'Racist attitudes'

But General Yaalon's comments come amid mounting evidence that senior officers are concerned about their soldiers conduct in the West Bank and Gaza.

I walked away with the soldiers' guns aimed at me
Tayil Bazur, witness
Major General Elazar Stern told an Israeli parliamentary committee on Monday that he was concerned about racist attitudes among some soldiers.

There have been several other recent investigations into allegations of abuse by Israeli troops.

The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem says the army's response has been unusually speedy in this case.

"I think B'Tselem's investigation into this particular case has struck a raw nerve, because of the public attention to other cases of abuse over the past three weeks. Each case then makes the army more defensive and, hopefully, more open to change," said the executive director of B'Tselem, Jessica Montel.

Impunity

In this latest incident, the military said Mahmoud Kamil - a wanted Islamic Jihad militant - had been shot whilst fleeing from his hiding place in a house in the village of Raba, south east of Jenin.

An investigation by B'Tselem found that Kamil was killed whilst lying injured on the ground.

They spoke to witnesses who said that Kamil was indeed shot whilst fleeing from the house but was only wounded and remained conscious.

Two Palestinian civilians were then forced to bring Kamil to the soldiers and hand over his weapon, the group said.

The civilians say they were then ordered to leave but turned to see a soldier firing rounds at Kamil.

"I walked away with the soldiers' guns aimed at me", said Tayil Bazur, one of the Palestinian civilians.

"I walked about 20 or 30 meters and then heard four or five shots. When I looked, I saw Mahmoud's body jump up a bit," he told B'Tselem

Human rights groups say there is a culture of impunity amongst Israeli soldiers in the Palestinian territories.

They have reported a number of cases where soldiers have been abusive or violent.

B'Tselem says that 1,600 Palestinian civilians have been killed by the Israeli army since September 2000.

The army has only opened investigations into 92 of these deaths.




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