JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Israeli army said on Friday that a Palestinian protester who died in army custody in the occupied West Bank may have suffocated from tear gas, but a Palestinian doctor who viewed his autopsy said he died from a bullet wound.
Yassin Omar Al-Saradeeh died soon after a confrontation on Thursday with Israeli troops in the town of Jericho. The Palestinian Authority condemned it as a “cold-blooded execution”.
Palestinians have staged regular protests since U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision last December that Washington would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy there. Israeli forces have killed at least 20 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials.
The controversy over Saradeeh has echoes of a 2015 incident in which an Israeli soldier shot dead a wounded Palestinian assailant as he lay on the ground. It led to one of the most divisive trials in Israeli history.
The Palestinian agency for prisoners said Saradeeh “was killed by a bullet fired from point-blank range that struck him in the lower abdomen, causing internal bleeding, and that the bullet exited through his back.”
It quoted Palestinian physician Rayyan Al-Ali, who observed the Israeli autopsy.
The Israeli army said in a statement that initial findings of its investigation into Saradeeh’s death showed that he may have died from inhaling tear gas used to disperse attackers.
Palestinians say he was severely beaten in custody. Issa Qaraqea, head of the prisoners’ agency, described the death as “an ugly war crime”.
In security camera footage posted on social media and carried by Israeli news sites, soldiers could be seen kicking and striking a man on the ground after detaining him.
The army statement said that during the confrontation, some 50 Palestinians threw firebombs, rocks and rolled burning tyres at the troops. The Israelis responded with “riot dispersal means” and it appeared he was exposed to tear gas which may have caused his death.
The statement said troops had used force to subdue him. Despite shots being fired towards him, “he was most likely not hit”.
The army said on Thursday the man was armed with an iron rod and ran towards the soldiers in an attempt to strike them. The troops were on a raid to arrest suspects in Jericho.
The Palestinian Information Ministry said about 20 soldiers had administered a “heavy beating” to Saradeeh.
Israeli troops frequently mount raids in the West Bank to detain suspected militants. Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
An Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, was sentenced last February to 18 months imprisonment for killing a wounded and incapacitated Palestinian assailant, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, in the West Bank town of Hebron in 2015.
He was convicted of manslaughter, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Supporters argued he was justified in shooting a Palestinian they said had intended to kill Israelis. The military said he violated standing orders and that his conduct was unbecoming of an Israeli soldier.
Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Angus MacSwan