Police have reduced the gravity of the suspicions against a Jewish settler who was arrested for stabbing a Palestinian to death in the West Bank in June, a senior police officer told Haaretz on Tuesday.
According to the source, police are now regarding the case as one of reckless homicide, for which the maximum punishment is 12 years in prison, rather than a more serious charge of murder. The police are looking into the possibility that the settler acted out of self-defense.
The Israel Police nationalist crime unit investigating the incident has asked the court to release the suspect subject to restrictions. A court has imposed a gag order on the details of the investigation.
Last week, the Shin Bet security agency detained three relatives of the man who was killed, Ali Hassan Harb, 27, of the West Bank village of Iskaka. The three, Naeem, Firas and Ziad Harb, who were present at the scene at the time of the incident, said they were brought in for questioning regarding their claims in media interviews that soldiers and police officers witnessed the stabbing. They were handcuffed and blindfolded when they were brought in for interrogation, they said.
Six Jewish teens who witnessed the incident were also summoned for interrogation by the police four days after the stabbing – and one was questioned under caution as a criminal suspect. Other witnesses to the stabbing have yet to be summoned for questioning.
Witnesses said that on the day of the stabbing, they received a message from a shepherd that a group of settlers was on their land, near the entrance to Ariel, to erect a settlement outpost or tent there. In videos Palestinians can be seen trying to drive off the settlers. A woman named Atadel, who is Harb’s aunt, told Haaretz that there are olive trees at the site that the family picks during the harvest season. The family had not clashed with settlers previously, she said.
Two Palestinians identified as Ziad and Amjad, who arrived at the scene with Harb, said the man who stabbed Harb also threw stones at them and had earlier attempted to stab one of them. They said the stabber was older, wore a black shirt and army pants and had a hat on his head.
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Ramzi Harb, a relative of the dead man, said he arrived at the scene a few minutes before the incident and that when he arrived, he saw a group of settlers near a fence in the presence of soldiers, the security coordinator of a settlement and police officers. Ziad and Amjad also said soldiers were near the scene. But the army denied this.
Ziad and Amjad said that after Ali Hassan Harb was stabbed, they tried to approach him but an armed man at the scene aimed his gun at one of their heads. The army prevented them from removing the body for several minutes, they claimed.
“The claim that the soldiers prevented medical evacuation of the injured man is not true,” the IDF said in a statement. Ultimately, Ali Hassan Harb was taken to the hospital in Salfit, where he was formally pronounced dead.