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Middle East
Palestinian killed in Israeli raid
Family says soldiers mistakenly shot dead sleeping man during hunt for a Hamas fighter released from Palestinian jail.
Last Modified: 07 Jan 2011 10:14 GMT
Israeli troops shot dead al-Qawasmeh during a dawn raid on Friday to arrest suspected Hamas fighters [AFP] 

Israeli troops have shot dead a sleeping Palestinian man during a dawn raid in the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank.

Family members found Omar al-Qawasmeh, 66, in a pool of blood in the bedroom after soldiers broke into several homes in the city's al-Sheikh neighbourhood on Friday.

The raid came less than 24 hours after six Hamas fighters who had been on hunger strike in Palestinian jails were released on Thursday.

Five of them were from Hebron, and one of them, Wael Bitar, arrested by the Israelis, lived one storey below the victim, residents said.

"I was praying when they entered. I do not know how they opened the door. They put their hand to my mouth and a rifle to my head," al-Qawasmeh's wife told the Reuters news agency.

"I was shocked. They did not allow me to talk. I asked them, 'What did you do?' They asked me to shut up."

Later, the Israeli army issued a statement acknowedging that al-Qawasmeh's killing was unintended. It said he "was present in one of the terrorist's homes".

An Israeli military spokesman told the AFP news agency: "There is no indication that [al-Qawasmeh] was involved in any terror activity at any stage and therefore we regret the incident."

An immediate investigation has been ordered, with a report expected by next week, according to the Israeli army statement.

Shot at close range

Al Jazeera's Nisreen el-Shamayleh, reporting from Ramallah in the West Bank, said al-Qawasmeh was shot at close range with multiple bullets in the head and chest, and was already dead by the time he reached the hospital.

"According to the family, the soldiers appeared very flustered after killing al-Qawasmeh and asked one of the sons whether that was Bitar. When told he was not, they went to Bitar's apartment one floor below to arrest him and left the building," she said.

"The Palestinian Authority said they were very angry with this incident and called it the execution of an elderly Palestinian citizen. They consider it an incitement against the Palestinian Authority and an unjustified crime that will lead to instability in the region."

Separately, the Israeli army confirmed the arrest of Bitar, who it described as a "senior member of the Hamas armed infrastructure in the Hebron region".

The army said "Bitar was the assistant of Shehab Natshe, who planned the suicide bombing in Dimona of 2008".

In addition to Bitar, four "Hamas operatives who were working alongside [him]" were also arrested overnight.

"All five of the men were released from a Palestinian prison on Thursday," the Israeli army statement said.

Gaza targets hit

In other incidents, the Israeli military said fighter jets attacked two targets in Gaza overnight in response to rocket fire from the Palestinian territory, which is governed by Hamas.

One of the targets of the raid was a tunnel Hamas fighters dug into Israel under the border fence, the military statement.

Friday's raids come as tensions continue to rise in Gaza. Overnight, between Wednesday and Thursday, Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians who they said were trying to get across the border fence into Israel.

Earlier, on Wednesday, Palestinian fighters fired seven projectiles, most of them mortar shells, across the border, Israeli sources said. No casualties or damage was reported.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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