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Israeli army investigates Palestinian protester's death

12 December 11 12:56
Palestinian protester Mustafa Tamimi before he was hit in the face by a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during a weekly rally against Israel's controversial separation barrier in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh on 9 December 2011

Israel's army says it is investigating the death of a Palestinian protester who died after being struck in the face by a tear-gas canister at the weekend.

Pictures of the incident appear to show Mustafa Tamimi, 28, being shot at from close range by an Israeli soldier.

Witnesses said he had been among a small group of Palestinians throwing stones at army vehicles in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh on Friday.

Human rights activists have accused the army of using disproportionate force.

Tamimi is believed to be the 20th person to have been killed over the past eight years at similar demonstrations against the seizure by Jewish settlers of land belonging to Palestinian villages in the area.

Funeral clashes

Witnesses said Tamimi had been throwing rocks at an Israeli army 4x4 vehicle after the main protest had ended on Friday, when a soldier inside opened the rear door and fired a 40mm-calibre tear-gas canister directly at him from only a few metres away.

Photographs taken by an Israeli pro-Palestinian activist, Haim Schwarczenberg, show Tamimi running towards the vehicle, the tear-gas launcher emerging from the opened door, the canister travelling through the air, and then Tamimi falling to the ground, clutching his face.

Tamimi was taken in a critical condition to Beilinson Hospital in central Israel, where he died of his injuries on Saturday.

At his funeral on Sunday, there were further clashes between mourners and Israeli soldiers.

The Israeli army called the death an "exceptional incident" and promised a full inquiry.

Sources in the army's Central Command told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the soldier had stated that he "didn't see" Tamimi.

However, the army's rules of engagement reportedly prohibit the firing of tear gas grenades from a rifle pointed directly at demonstrators, or from a distance of less than 40m (130ft). They also state that the soldier must use the rifle's sight and verify that no-one is in the line of fire.

The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said it had documented many cases in which tear-gas canisters were fired directly at people during the weekly protest in Nabi Saleh, and elsewhere in the West Bank.

"For several years now, B'Tselem has been warning officials that security forces fire tear-gas canisters directly at persons during demonstrations. The organisation has demanded... that commanders clarify to soldiers serving in the field that firing tear-gas canisters directly at a person is unlawful," it said in a statement.

"Tear gas is supposed to serve as a non-lethal crowd control measure, means to disperse demonstrations, and is not meant to be used as a weapon. Therefore, firing tear-gas canisters directly at persons breaches the rules of engagement."

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