Middle East

Israel expresses regret over death of Jordanian judge

Jordanian lawyers and judges burn a representation of the Israeli flag during a strike inside the Palace of Justice in Amman, Jordan, on 11 March 2014. Image copyright AP
Image caption Jordanian lawyers protested outside the justice ministry, demanding the deportation of Israeli diplomats

Israel has expressed regret over the death of a Jordanian judge, who was shot by Israeli soldiers at the Allenby Bridge border crossing on Monday.

It has also agreed to a request to set up a joint investigation with Jordan.

The Israeli military says Raed Zaytar, who was of Palestinian origin, tried to grab a soldier's rifle and strangle him after crossing into the West Bank.

But the incident was condemned by the Palestinian Authority and Jordan's government, which called it "hideous".

Investigation

On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office issued a statement saying: "Israel regrets the death of Judge Raed Zaytar... and expresses its sympathies to the people and government of Jordan."

"Israel has already shared with Jordan the results of its preliminary investigation of the incident," it added. "Israel has also agreed to a Jordanian request to establish a joint Israeli-Jordanian team to complete the investigation."

Jordan's Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour meanwhile told parliament that Israel was "completely responsible" for Mr Zaytar's death.

"Jordan has pressured Israel to formally apologise. Jordan is now part of the probe into the shooting," he said.

MPs dismissed the Israeli expression of regret and the Speaker, Attef al-Tarwaneh, said the shooting had violated Jordan's 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Raed Zaytar was killed after crossing into the West Bank from Jordan on Monday morning

Lawyers and judges staged a protest outside the Palace of Justice in Amman to demand the deportation of Israeli diplomats.

The Palestinian Authority has also strongly condemned the shooting and demanded the formation of an international investigative committee.

Originally from the northern West Bank town of Nablus, Mr Zaytar had been working as a magistrate in Jordan since 2009.

Hundreds of Palestinians turned out for his funeral on Tuesday in Nablus. Palestinian Authority security personnel escorted his body in a 20-vehicle military procession.

Mr Zaytar was on board a bus that transports people across the Allenby Bridge crossing with about 50 others on Monday morning when it was stopped by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint.

Describing Mr Zaytar as a "terrorist", the Israeli military said that after getting off the bus he "ran towards the soldiers yelling 'Allahu akbar', attempting to seize their weapons".

"The soldiers felt an immediate threat to their lives and fired toward his lower extremities. The suspect then began to strangle a soldier and the force resorted to firing again," it added.

On Tuesday evening, the Palestinian news agency Maan cited a witness as saying the incident began when Mr Zaytar was pushed over by the soldier as he attempted to board the bus at the checkpoint.

Mr Zaytar got up and pushed the soldier, who then opened fire, the report said. The first shot missed, but the second hit him in the chest, it added.

The witness said the judge lay on the road bleeding for about half an hour before an Israeli ambulance arrived and medics tried to revive him.

Gaza air strike

In a separate incident on Tuesday, three Palestinian militants were killed in an Israeli air strike on the southern Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military said it hit the group immediately after they had fired a mortar shell at Israeli forces.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Thousands attended the funerals of the three Islamic Jihad militants killed on Tuesday

Islamic Jihad's military wing, the al-Quds Brigades, said the men had been trying to prevent "an Israeli incursion east of Khan Younis".

The group has sporadically fired rockets and mortars at Israel, while Gaza's ruling Hamas movement has refrained from firing rockets since a 2012 ceasefire with Israel.

An unmanned Israeli surveillance aircraft crashed just hours earlier in the same area. The Israeli military said the drone came down because of a technical malfunction.

On Monday, a Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops who opened fire on a group throwing stones at Israeli vehicles near the West Bank city of Ramallah, Israel said.