Israel’s military releases Itamar probe findings

Published May 29, 2011 |  20:19


Young Awarta residents clean up on 12 April 2011, after the most recent  Israeli home-to-home invasions in the village. [MaanImages/Rami Swidan]

TEL AVIV (Ma’an) — Israeli forces operating to protect the Itamar settlement in the northern West Bank failed to “fully implement the defensible means available,” despite assessments that “recognized the existing threats,” the results of an investigation showed.

The internal Israeli military probe looked into the circumstances around the murder of five settlers, three of them children, in the Jewish-only settlement of Itamar, in mid-March.

Details of the investigation remain scant, and while the statement from the military’s Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz expressed “appreciation of the security forces that operated to apprehend the assailants,” military officials could not immediately confirm whether the Palestinian men detained in connection with the killings had been tried in a court.

Israeli reports of the killings, which took place the night of 11 March, said unknown assailants broke into the settlement and killed five of the seven members of the Fogul family who were sleeping at home. The case remained under an Israeli gag-order until officials announced that two teenagers from the Palestinian village of Awarta were identified as the prime suspects.

An Israeli intelligence document leaked in mid-April said “The two, residents of the village of Awarta, confessed during the investigation to planning and carrying out the attack and staged a reconstruction,” but family members vociferously denied the claim, with one family saying their son was likely tortured.

The teen, 19-year-old Hakim Awwad, according to his family was too ill to have carried out the gruesome attack. His mother Nouf told Ma’an that Hakim was still recovering from a testicular surgery, which prevented him from walking long distances and required him to use the toilet every hour.

“We have the medical records, he is in unstable health,” she said at the time, adding that the family had gathered papers to present as evidence in his defense.

Hakim, and his relative Amjad Awad were identified by Israeli officials as the main suspects in the killing, while four others were identified as also being involved in the crime.

The six were some of the hundreds rounded up by Israeli forces during a month-long investigation that saw the village of Awarta locked down under a military curfew for five days immediately following the killings, and several more days periodically after that.

Men, women and children were taken into military custody during house-to-house raids, and compelled to give fingerprints and DNA samples.

The settlement, which is guarded by Israel’s military as part of its occupation of the West Bank, was also accused of failing to protect the settlers. The report on the incident, according to the military statement, said “the Command’s situational assessment recognized the existing threats despite the lack of concrete intelligence information.”

Tensions between settlers and their Palestinian neighbors in the northern West Bank are tense, with hundreds of reported incidents of settler-violence, harassment and vandalism targeting Palestinians and their property are cataloged each year.

Palestinians are often reported to throw rocks at passing settler cars.

The military report said that although soldiers operating in the area had identified a general threat, “they failed to translate the assessment into a concrete operational plan and to fully implement the defensible means available.”

In the statement, the military chief of staff ordered the “immediate implementation of the conclusions of the incident including accelerating the development of security mechanisms in the region.”

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