Rights Group Claims Israeli Soldier 'Executed' Second Palestinian Attacker in Hebron

Israeli soldier at scene of a Hebron stabbing attack
Blood from the body of a Palestinian assailant who was allegedly shot in the head by an Israeli soldier as he lay wounded after injuring an Israeli soldier in a stabbing assault, stain the ground on March 24, 2016. Israeli NGO B'Tselem has claimed that a second Palestinian stabber was "executed" in the same incident. Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images

The second Palestinian that the Israeli military killed after a stabbing attack against soldiers in March was "executed" while prone, an Israeli rights group said on Monday.

The left-leaning B'Tselem group, which documents Israeli violations in the West Bank, said in a statement that an Israeli soldier shot Palestinian attacker Ramzi al-Qasrawi in the head while he lay on the ground with injuries from a prior gunshot, according to two Palestinian eyewitnesses, Nur Abu 'Eishah and Amani Abu 'Eishah.

Another Israeli soldier, Sgt. Elor Azaria, is on trial for the alleged killing of Qasrawi's fellow attacker, Abdel Fatal al-Sharif, after footage showed him cocking his gun and shooting Sharif in the head while he laid prone on the floor following the attack in the West Bank city of Hebron.

The incident divided the Israeli public and the country's political elite, with ultranationalist and far-right Israelis protesting against the government and military's decision to allow Azaria to be prosecuted, alleging that the soldier was doing his duty.

The Israeli military denied B'Tselem's claims and the accounts of the two eyewitnesses, saying that the soldier fired the fatal shots as Qasrawi carried out his attack.

"The claims by the B'Tselem organization are inconsistent with the findings of the operational investigation and conflict with the information the IDF has about this incident," the army said in a statement.

"The shots fired at the terrorist were carried out in order to eliminate the threat while he was attacking the soldiers with a knife."

The new allegation comes after the Israeli military lifted travel restrictions on the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron, allowing them to take testimonies from eyewitnesses.

Sarit Michaeli, spokesperson for B'Tselem, told Newsweek that the two eyewitnesses are volunteers for the group and had filmed "sections" of the incident involving Qasrawi, but had not captured the moment an Israeli soldier killed him.

She says that the Israeli military police "contacted one of them at least" and will meet with at least one of the eyewitnesses to have their version of events checked by the authorities. The eyewitnesses are adamant about what happened and are willing to continue with their testimonies despite the threat of prosecution if they are caught lying, Michaeli adds.

"We are convinced that they have it because we know that virtually every meter of Hebron city center is covered with military security cameras," she says. "The question is whether they will release it."

Israeli authorities have released many clips of attacks by Palestinians against Israeli authorities but in some cases they have withheld the footage. She says that the Israeli authorities have the ability to confirm or deny the eyewitness accounts with the CCTV footage as both men "are describing a particular sequence."

According to Michaeli, the eyewitnesses allege that the sequence proceeded as follows: two Palestinians attack a soldier; a soldier shoots Qasrawi; Sharif runs away; an Israeli soldier runs after Sharif and shoots him before coming back to shoot the first assailant Qasrawi while he lay on the floor.

The Israeli military has an open-fire policy that allows soldiers to fire on assailants if they pose mortal danger. Michaeli says that B'Tselem's interpretation is that "if [an attacker] is on the floor, that does not mean you are entitled to continue shooting to kill."

As the trial of Azaria continues, more details have started to emerge about the incident. The IDF's main investigator charged last week that an ambulance driver who had arrived at the scene had kicked a knife closer to the body of Sharif in order to enhance the case for self-defense in the shooting.

Hebron is a microcosm of the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Jewish settler outposts dotted around the city's hilltops protected by large numbers of Israeli soldiers among a population of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living under a military occupation.

The city has been the scene of the majority of the stabbing and car-ramming attacks committed by Palestinians against Israelis since October 2015. It is regarded by Jews as home to the second-holiest site in Judaism, the Tombs of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), and by Muslims as the fourth-holiest city in Islam.