Isabel Kershner
The New York Times
January 19, 2011 - 1:00am

The Israeli military announced Wednesday night that a soldier’s military career had been terminated after the fatal shooting of an unarmed 65-year-old Palestinian man in his bed during an arrest last week in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Soldiers apparently mistook the man, Omar al-Qawasmeh, for a Hamas militant whom they had come to arrest, and who lived in an apartment in the same building.

The killing infuriated the Palestinians. It was the third death in the West Bank in a week for which the Palestinians blamed the Israelis, and it occurred after a period of relative calm in the area and at a time of stagnation in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

In an effort to control the damage, the Israeli military quickly expressed regret for Mr. Qawasmeh’s death and promised to carry out an investigation quickly.

The military published its conclusions in a statement issued on Wednesday night. It said that one soldier had opened fire in accordance with army rules of engagement after Mr. Qawasmeh made a “suspicious movement that caused the soldier to feel that his life was threatened.” A second soldier who subsequently fired at Mr. Qawasmeh was found to have acted “unprofessionally,” and he was dismissed from the military.

Mr. Qawasmeh’s wife, who witnessed the killing, said her husband had been asleep when the soldiers burst into the bedroom before dawn and opened fire.

There was no immediate reaction to the military’s findings from Palestinian officials, presumably because of the late hour. It was also unclear whether there would be any criminal proceedings against the dismissed soldier, though the wording of the army statement made that sound unlikely.

Israel said that the wanted Hamas militant, Wael Bitar, was involved in a suicide bomb attack that killed an Israeli woman in February 2008. The day before the army raid, Mr. Bitar was released from a Palestinian Authority prison, where he had been held without charge or trial since September 2008. Mr. Bitar was rearrested by the Israeli military soon after the killing of Mr. Qawasmeh. Four other militants who had just been released from the Palestinian prison were arrested by the Israelis as well.

Israeli security officials said that soldiers from the elite Duvdevan unit had carried out the Hebron raid. They said that the unit specialized in close combat, camouflage and assimilation into hostile territory in order to capture suspects and thwart terrorist attacks.


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