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Middle East
Probe into Palestinian's gas death
Israeli military launches probe into the death of a Palestinian protester as her family claims a cover-up.
Last Modified: 02 Jan 2011 10:49 GMT
Palestinians are blaming the Israeli security forces for killing a woman during protests in Bilin [Reuters]

The Israeli military has said it will investigate the death of a Palestinian woman killed during a West Bank protest amid accusations of a cover-up.

Palestinian doctors said Jawaher Abu Rahmeh, 36, died after inhaling tear gas at the protest against Israel's separation barrier in the village of Bilin on Friday.

There were conflicting reports of the incident and the exact circumstances of the incident remain unclear.

Doctors say tear gas can kill if a victim has a pre-existing condition.

Mohammed Eideh, the doctor who treated Abu Rahmeh in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, said she had asthma, but her parents denied it.

On Sunday Michael Sfar, the lawyer for the family,  accused the Israeli army of "lying" about the circumstances surrounding Abu Rahmeh's death and of "using a massive amount of gas" during the protest.

"Once again the army is covering up the actions of its men, instead of apologising and conducting a serious inquiry," he told Israel's army radio.

Israeli investigation

The military said an "investigation has been opened to determine the exact cause of death" but added that it has not been allowed to see the Palestinian medical reports.

On Friday, the Israeli military said it had used unspecified "means of dispersing demonstrations" against some 250 violent protesters taking part in a weekly rally against the barrier.

On Saturday hundreds of Palestinians joined Abu Rahmeh's funeral procession, condemning her death as a "war crime" by the Israelis.

"We condemn this abominable crime by the Israeli occupation army in Bilin against people taking part in a peaceful demonstration and consider it an Israeli war crime against our people," Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief peace negotiator, told AFP.

A member of Abu Rahmeh's family said there were "too many forces from the occupation guarding the apartheid wall, and they started shooting, so many, so many gas (canisters) mixed with smelly water".

"And this large amount of gas caused many protesters a fealing of suffocation, and it killed Jawaher," said Rateb, a family member. "And immediately we moved her to the Palestinian medical centre."

Deadly protests

Abu Rahmeh's brother Bassem, in his 20s, was killed in 2009 after a tear gas canister struck him in the chest.

Nearly 200 demonstrators gathered in the Israeli capital, Tel Aviv, on Saturday to protest against Abu Rahmeh's death. A dozen people were arrested, according to AFP.

Following the incident, Jonathan Pollak, an anti-barrier activist, said Abu Rahmeh's death was caused by the brutality of the Israeli army.

"This death was caused by the fact that they are using tear gas that was banned in Europe in the 60s and 70s, because it is lethal. But here, on Palestinians, they continue using it," he said.

Israel says the projected 723 kilometres of steel and concrete walls, fences and barbed wire which it started building in 2004 is needed as a security measure to prevent suicide bombers from reaching its cities.

The Palestinians see it as a land grab that undermines their promised state.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a non-binding ruling in 2004 calling for parts of the barrier inside the West Bank to be torn down and for further construction in the territory to cease. Israel has ignored the ruling.

Violence in the West Bank has largely tapered off in the past few years as a result of Israeli security measures and a bolstered Palestinian police force.

But tensions are on the rise along Israel's border with Hamas-ruled Gaza, where armed groups have been firing rockets at Israeli towns, prompting deadly Israeli air strikes.

In an unrelated incident on Sunday, a Palestinian man was killed at a West Bank checkpoint, according to Palestinian and Israeli security officials.

A Palestinian worker in his 20s reportedly attacked soldiers with a glass bottle after he was denied permission to cross, Palestinian security officials said.

The Israeli military said the man ignored calls to stop before he was shot.

Source:
Agencies
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