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Israel to declare Gaza protest killings ‘operational mishaps’

An internal investigation by the Israeli military into the killing of at least 140 Palestinians in Gaza during the Great March of Return is set to conclude all died as a result of “operational mishaps” and that “weapons fire was carried out in accordance with open-fire orders”.

The investigation will also recommend that there is no need for the incidents to be referred to the Israeli Military Police for further investigation, Haaretz reported.

Haaretz added that “the team found that in each incident, […] none of the Israeli army sharpshooters had deliberately targeted uninvolved Palestinian bystanders.” The report will also suggest “demonstrators intruded into the line of fire after troops had opened fire and [there were] incidents in which bullets ricocheted, subsequently hitting Palestinians.”

The investigation team will now pass its recommendations to Israel’s Military Advocate General, Major General Sharon Afek, who will have final say on whether to further investigate the matter.

READ: EU calls on Israel to stop using ‘excessive force’ against civilians

The probe focused on the period between 30 March 2018, when the Great March of Return began, and 14 July 2018, during which time at least 140 Palestinians were killed and 15,000 injured. The investigation was initially ordered following the killing of Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja in April, which caused international outcry and calls for those covering the protests to be protected.

Funeral procession of Gazan video journalist and photographer Yaser Murtaja, killed by Israeli snipers despite wearing a vest marked ‘PRESS’, while covering the The Great March of Return on April 6, 2018 [Mohammad Asad / Middle East Monitor]

Alongside the death of Murtaja, the investigation also dealt with the individual case of Razan Al-Najjar, the 21-year-old volunteer medic who was shot while helping those wounded by Israeli fire. In July, Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem found that Israeli soldiers killed her with “deliberate shots” and concluded “a routine of whitewashing [by Israeli authorities] ensures very slim chances of anyone being held accountable”.

Other investigations into the killing of Gazan protesters have also been initiated, with the UN Human Rights Council voting in favour of a probe in May. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt), Professor Michael Lynk, said at the time that:

This blatant excessive use of force by Israel – an eye for an eyelash – must end, and there must be true accountability for those in military and political command who have ordered or allowed this force to be once again employed at the Gaza fence.

Earlier this week, the UN appointed former US legal official, David Crane, to head the investigation. The commissioners are not expected to present a final written report until March 2019.

READ: Three Palestinians killed by Israel artillery