JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli human rights group on Thursday accused Israeli troops of the extra-judicial killing of four Palestinian militants and demanded a criminal investigation of the incident.
Witnesses in Bethlehem said Israeli commandos disguised as locals drove into the West Bank town on March 12 and killed a local leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group, two of his comrades, and a militant from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
In a letter sent to Israel’s attorney general and the army’s judge advocate general, human rights group B’tselem said it had testimony that troops made no attempt to arrest the militants but rather “operated as though on an assassination mission”.
The Israeli army had no immediate comment on the B’tselem statement. At the time of the incident, it said its forces intended to arrest the militants, but opened fire after seeing that three of them had assault rifles.
The incident broke a brief lull in violence between the Jewish state and Palestinian militants in the occupied West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, hampering an Egyptian-led effort to broker a long-term truce.
B’tselem also accused the troops of shooting the militants at close range after the initial fire to ensure they were dead, a practice deemed illegal by Israeli and international law.
Israel’s high court has ruled that the state cannot intentionally kill Palestinian militants if less harmful means can be employed, such as arresting and trying them.
The rights group demanded that Israel’s judicial authorities and the army open a criminal investigation on the matter.
Israeli troops frequently conduct raids in West Bank towns in search of militants they say are suspected of involvement in attacks against Israelis. These raids mostly end in arrests.