LONDON: Witnesses to the killing of a Palestinian have questioned the accounts of Israeli authorities, who say an officer killed the 22-year-old in self-defense, the BBC reported on Tuesday.
Ammar Mefleh was shot dead by an officer at point-blank range in the West Bank on Friday. The killing has sparked widespread condemnation in Palestine, with the UN envoy to the region tweeting that he was “horrified” over Mefleh’s death.
The incident occurred when Mefleh allegedly stabbed the officer in the face following a scuffle.
However, witnesses told the BBC that the man only punched the officer and that there was no knife involved.
It is unclear based on witness testimony and video evidence what led to the incident, but the actions of the officer have been praised in Israel and condemned by Palestinians.
Footage of the incident shows the Israeli officer restraining Mefleh in a headlock, with the latter escaping and trying to seize the policeman’s gun.
Mefleh grabbed the rifle but then dropped it, at which point the officer drew his pistol and shot him at close range, killing him.
Witness Nader Allan told the BBC: “I was standing over there next to the butcher. A settler’s car stopped. I’m not sure if he hit the (Palestinian) guy’s car, or if the guy was walking in the street.
“They started yelling at each other and I heard a shot. The settler shot the guy (Mefleh) in the face. He was bleeding and he fell on the floor.”
Following that initial incident the Israeli officer arrived, eventually leading to Mefleh’s death, Allan said.
Mahmoud Abed, another witness, said he investigated the sound of gunshots after the Israeli driver opened fire.
He added: “We found a guy on the floor with his face covered in blood. A policeman came from far away. He looked at him and kicked him, then the policeman said something on the radio.”
Both witnesses said despite being wounded by the initial shooting, Mefleh confronted the officer who arrived at the scene. This is what led to the scuffle, they added.
Bahaa Odeh, a third witness, said: “Because of how upset I got from what I saw I started shouting at the soldier telling him ‘you’re despicable … there was no danger to your life, why did you kill him?’
“I told him ‘you are a coward … you killed him because he punched you. He has a right to defend himself’.”
As a result of Mefleh’s death, confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli authorities later descended into violence.
In the West Bank this year, more than 150 Palestinians have been killed, almost entirely by Israeli forces.