Palestinian killed after roadside fight, not attack on Israelis: witnesses

Eye-witnesses have firmly disputed an Israeli officer’s self-defence claims after chilling footage showed him firing close-range fatal shots at a Palestinian man in the occupied West Bank.

Ammar Hadi Mufleh, 22, was killed Friday in Huwara, near Nablus in the northern West Bank, and video from the scene shows him in an altercation with an Israeli police commander, who then shot him several times.

Multiple Palestinian witnesses denied Mufleh was armed with a knife or tried to grab the officer’s weapon, as Israel has claimed, giving a different account of what led to the widely condemned incident.

One witness, Abdullah al-Sattaria, 30, told AFP he was travelling from his home in Jericho to an engagement party in Tulkarm, and had stopped at a shop in Huwara.

He is seen in the video several metres (feet) from Mufleh when the fatal shots were fired.

The incident started when Mufleh was struck near a roundabout by a vehicle with an Israeli couple inside, Sattaria said.

“The settler swerved to avoid a car and hit Ammar in his leg,” Sattaria said, referring to the Israeli driver.

A furious Mufleh approached the car and starting banging on the window, telling the driver to “watch out”, the witness added.

– UN ‘horrified’ –

Farmer Nader Allan Musa had also witnessed the altercation that ensued, from his car about 10 metres (33 feet) away, he told AFP.

According to Sattaria and Musa, the driver fired at Mufleh from inside the car, and Musa said “the glass of the car (window) injured” Mufleh.

Israel has confirmed that the driver was an armed off-duty military officer. AFP has been unable to reach him to discuss the incident.

Afterwards, a commander in Israel’s border police unit, which operates across the West Bank, got into a scuffle with Mufleh.

Video from the scene, not disputed by Israel, shows Sattaria and another Palestinian trying to pry Mufleh away from the officer. Mufleh and the officer separate, and then their fight continues.

Mufleh, who in the footage appears to be unarmed, is seen trying to strike the officer in the head with his fist. 

The officer then pulls out a hand gun and shoots Mufleh, who falls to the ground.

Sattaria is seen in the video bringing his hands to his head, in a gesture of shock.

The UN envoy for Middle East peace, Tor Wennesland, said he was “horrified” by the incident.

“Such incidents must be fully and promptly investigated, and those responsible held accountable,” Wennesland said on Twitter, sending his condolences to the slain man’s family. 

– ‘No knife’ –

An Israeli police statement alleged that Mufleh had tried to break into the Israeli car “with a rock” before the driver fired at him.

Next, police said, an armed Mufleh attacked two border police officers sitting in another car, lightly wounding one of them.

The Palestinian eye-witnesses who spoke to AFP disputed that Mufleh was carrying a knife and deny that he approached the second vehicle.

The officer who fired the fatal shots told Israel’s Channel 12 at the weekend that he saw “the knife drop to (the driver’s) feet”.

Sattaria insisted Mufleh had “no knife”.

“If I had seen Ammar with a knife, I would not have interfered,” he added.

Identified only as “H”, the officer said he believed an “attack was taking place” and pursued Mufleh.

“The terrorist grabs my gun, I shoot him because I know that if this gun ends up in his hands, he’ll use it against me and civilians travelling on the road,” he said.

Extreme-right firebrand lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, who is known for anti-Arab rhetoric and could be in charge of the border police in prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, has called the officer a “hero”.

Hareth Odeh, a cashier at a Huwara restaurant, told AFP that he saw Mufleh “lying on the ground” after the initial injury sustained from the shots fired from inside the off-duty officer’s car.

“The (border police) officer came and tried to drag the young man away, and then a fist-fight broke out between him and the young man, before he was shot,” Odeh said.

In Mufleh’s home village of Osrin, his mother Jinan told AFP the family was desperate to claim his body which has been seized by Israeli forces.

“They killed him and kept his body,” she said. “Why are they holding him? Why?”