soldier - Ap - Aug 21, 2010
Palestinian women argue with an Israeli soldier while attempting to cross the Kalandia checkpoint August 27, 2010 Photo by AP
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The Israel Defense Forces has decided to open an internal investigation into the shooting deaths of two Palestinians in the West Bank village of Awarta.

Attorney Michael Sfard of the Yesh Din organization petitioned the High Court of Justice last month on behalf of the families, demanding that a criminal probe be carried out to determine whether the IDF soldiers had been justified in opening fire.

The state informed the court on Wednesday that Chief Military Prosecutor Avihai Mandelblit had already ordered an investigation to begin at the beginning of next month, and the petition was thus unnecessary.

The incident in question began last March, when IDF soldiers stopped two Palestinian farmers seen walking near the West Bank settlement of Itamar. The soldiers said that the Palestinians had told them that they were on their way to work in the fields. When asked to present their identification cards, the Palestinians said they were not carrying any such documents.

The soldiers said that the Palestinians mumbled their response and that as such, their behavior was suspicious. When check-point commander tried to validate the identification numbers that the farmers gave, they turned out to be false. The soldiers said that at that point, one of the Palestinians tried to attack a soldier with a pitchfork, and that the commander subsequently shot the two to death.

Col. Itzik Bar, commander of the Samaria Brigade, was reproached by Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi following the incident.

The squad commander was dismissed from his position and will not be able to serve as commander in the future. Ashkenazi said that the incident could have ended differently, and that its fatal results could have been prevented.