At the peak of the attack in the Bank Hapoalim branch in Be’er Sheva that left four people dead on Monday, an Israel Police officer on the scene fired into the bathroom stall where the attacker, Itamar Alon, was holding a woman hostage.
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This new information came to light during a discussion of the attack in the Knesset on Wednesday morning. Southern District Police Commander Maj. Gen. Yoram Halevy described the officer’s gunfire into the bathroom stall where Alon was holding Miriam Cohen hostage as “unjustified, a mishap.”
During the meeting of the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, Halevy described the chain of events that occurred after Alon took Cohen hostage.
“At 1:20 PM, the district commander arrived with a negotiator," he said. "We called to Itamar Alon, but he did not answer. When we questioned the hostage, she said he had threatened her to keep her from speaking. For 50 minutes our negotiator tried to engage him in conversation, but he did not answer. At 2:14 PM, Alon ended his life. A single shot was heard in the stall, and immediately afterward the stall door, which had been locked, was opened.”
Later, Halevy told Haaretz that the shot had been fired into the bathroom stall after one of the police officers, unaware that Alon might be holding a hostage, heard a door slam. The bullet struck one of the walls of the stall and did not hit anyone.
During the meeting, Halevy was asked why Omar Walid, a wounded Bedouin man at the scene, had been handcuffed even though he was unconscious.
“The police officers who arrived at first understood there was a hostage," Halevy said. "At the time, we were receiving reports that weren’t clear. During the search and evacuation, we evacuated the four people who had been killed, a man with a gunshot wound and a woman who had hid under a desk and was unharmed. The understanding that another person had been found obligated us to check, handcuff and accompany to the hospital under guard any person found in such an incident until we knew for certain that he was innocent.”
Halevy denied that the police officers had known that one of the people handcuffed was a Bedouin. “There is an established procedure for evacuations, even if involves some unpleasantness,” he said.
Omar Walid is still hospitalized in the intensive-care unit. His brother Hayman told Haaretz that his brother was shot by police officers. “They shot him because they thought he was a suspect. The doctor told us there were several bullets of the same type in his body. Why didn’t they treat him properly? Why was he brought here in handcuffs? We’re very angry. He wasn’t treated as a human being.”
A spokesperson for Soroka Medical Center said it was not known what kind of bullets had been found in Walid’s body. Police officials said they did not know yet whether someone aside from Alon fired a weapon, and that the matter was being investigated.
Ramo Vaknin, the customer Walid saved by shielding him with his own body, said the police officers had struck him. “It seems they thought I was involved in the robbery, and they hit me. Then they took me to the police car in handcuffs. They released me half an hour later when I told them who I was.”