IDF 'Regrets' Civilian Death in Hebron, but Defends Operation

The Israel Defense Forces acknowledged Saturday that an undercover unit's killing of a 67-year-old Palestinian man in Hebron the day before was a "mistake."

The Israel Defense Forces acknowledged yesterday that an undercover unit's killing of a 67-year-old Palestinian man in Hebron Friday was a "mistake."

Omar Qawasmeh Reuters 1/7/2011

Omar Qawasmeh was shot to death by soldiers who wrongly identified him as a Hamas militant.

The IDF unit was dispatched to Hebron early Friday morning in the wake of intelligence indicating that six members of the military wing of Hamas had been released from the Palestinian Authority prison in Jericho.

Members of the IDF unit, under Judean Division commander Col. Guy Hazut, forced their way into the homes of the released Hamas members. Army sources said the entries were "cold," meaning that no firearms or explosives were used.

'Suspicious movement'

IDF sources said Omar Qawasmeh, whose home was one of those raided by the soldiers, was shot and killed after making a suspicious movement.

Palestinian sources said Qawasmeh was shot in his bed.

GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi ordered an investigation into the incident, including the decision to enter the Qawasmehs home and why the soldiers fired at a civilian who posed no threat to them.

IDF sources said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ordered the men's release after being pressured by the men's relatives and figures with ties to Hamas.

His decision followed telephone calls from the Damascus-based Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal and the Gaza Strip's Hamas leader Sheikh Ismail Haniyeh.

One of the six was Wael Mahmoud Said Bitar, who is believed to have been behind the planning of the last suicide bombing carried out in Israel in February 2008 in Dimona, in which one woman was killed and 10 persons were injured.

The Hamas leaders asked Abbas to release Bitar because his brother had recently died in Damascus.

The six Hamas members did not resist arrest. Commander of the IDF Judea and Samaria Division Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon said the men were "hardcore terrorists we have been pursuing and who were involved in the 2008 attack in Dimona and in shooting incidents near Hebron in which four residents of Beit Hagai were killed.

During the night the force arrested them but unfortunately a civilian was killed during the operation in a home near that of one of the fugitives."