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Israeli soldiers reprimanded over Palestinian deaths

By Kevin Flower, CNN
The father of a Palestinian teen and other family members mourn his death in the West Bank on March 20.
The father of a Palestinian teen and other family members mourn his death in the West Bank on March 20.
  • Company commanders "reprimanded" for conduct of their forces
  • First sergeant dismissed from his position over the West Bank deaths
  • Human rights group says two Palestinian teens were killed "in cold blood"
  • Two Palestinian men killed at checkpoint in separate incident

Jerusalem (CNN) -- The Palestinian prime minister's office on Tuesday slammed Israel for giving only a "symbolic" punishment to soldiers involved in last month's shooting death of four Palestinians.

"The punishment was very symbolic while the crime was really horrible," said Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

"We hoped that the Israeli army would punish those soldiers in a way that will deter others from doing the same," Khatib said. "In fact this kind of escaping from punishment will encourage other soldiers who are incited by right-wing leaders everyday to repeat such crimes."

Israel's top military commander said earlier Tuesday that a sergeant was dismissed and three officers were reprimanded over the incident.

Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi concluded "that the events could have ended differently from a professional standpoint, and the difficult results could have been prevented" and that "disciplinary measures must be taken against some of the officers involved," the military said.

A brigade, battalion and a deputy company commander were reprimanded for the conduct of forces under their command, the statement said.

The four Palestinians died in two separate incidents in the West Bank.

The first incident happened on March 20 when two Palestinian teens were shot at a West Bank demonstration.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights accused the Israeli soldiers of intentionally firing at the two "from close range," killing them "in cold blood." The group said the two teens were not involved in protesting when they were shot.

In its probe, the Israeli military called the demonstration a "violent riot" and said one of its soldiers testified that he "shot a number of rubber bullets toward the rioters" and that one Palestinian was identified as being hit. The Israeli military said it could not be determined whether live fire was used and that military police were still investigating the incident.

In the second incident, which took place on March 21 near the West Bank village of Awarta, two Palestinian men were shot by Israeli soldiers while being stopped for a security check.

After the shooting, the head of the Palestinian medical relief services in the area, Dr. Ghassan Hamadan, told CNN the two Palestinians were both shot in the back. One had four gunshot wounds in the back and one in the shoulder, he said

According to the Israeli investigation of the incident, one of the Palestinian men "began acting suspiciously and finally assaulted one of the soldiers with a bottle."

The probe determined "one of the soldiers felt his life was in danger and fired at the Palestinian."

"At that point, the second suspect, who was a few meters away, raised his hand holding a sharp object, causing the soldier to believe, that he, too, was attempting to attack," the statement said. "As a result the soldier fired and killed the Palestinian."

Residents in the area dispute this version of events and said the two men were innocent farm workers. The four killings over the course of one weekend brought strong condemnation from Palestinian officials at the time, and the results of the investigation were being watched closely.

In an interview with CNN earlier this month, Fayyad said, "it doesn't look like the narrative on this from the Israeli military early on stands up to the facts" and "escalation and violence from the Israeli side is totally unacceptable."