The Israeli hiker who shot dead a Palestinian in the West Bank last month did so after local Palestinians threw stones at the hikers first, the Israel Defense Forces said this week after completing an inquiry.
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After the November 30 incident near the village of Qusra in the northern West Bank, the police still suspect that the shooter may have committed negligent homicide. But police sources say the police are leaning toward the shooter’s version that he fired in the air out of self-defense.
The police say they expect to interview all witnesses of the incident, in which 48-year-old Mahmoud Odeh was killed. Villagers say he was hit by a bullet when he was working his land nearby.
The hikers consisted of 20 13-year-olds and two adults on an outing celebrating one the boys’ bar mitvzah.
“The inquiry determined that the direct cause of the incident was an attempt to attack the settlers by the Palestinians, endangering the lives of the settlers,” the IDF spokesman said.
But the IDF also criticized the hikers, saying they never received IDF approval for the outing, despite their request. The IDF said it had thus clarified its rules on coordinating hikes.
The Israeli police in the West Bank are still investigating. The man who fired the shots, a 48-year-old officer in the IDF reserves, is still under investigation on suspicion of negligent homicide. He said immediately after the incident he did not notice that anyone had been hit by one of his shots.
The Palestinians said they only began throwing stones after one of the two men opened fire. The army has ruled out this version and the police have not yet found evidence supporting it.
During the clash, one of the men led the boys into a nearby cave, where they hid until the army arrived. The two adults, one of them the father of the bar mitzvah boy, were lightly injured by stones. They were taken to the hospital and released the same day.
The hike took place in Area B of the West Bank, where Israel has control only over security matters.
On the Friday morning eight days later, the same group of boys went on another hike near Qusra, though they were joined by politicians including Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and the head of the Shomron Regional Council, Yossi Dagan.
This time soldiers guarded the hikers. The bar mitzvah boy, whose first name is Avitzur, said during the second hike: “It’s not comfortable for me to be here but it gives me strength. My bar mitzvah party wasn’t an easy experience. I’m happy that so many people came to support us and allow me to celebrate again.”