Friday, March 9, 2007

JERUSALEM — The Israeli army said yesterday that it was looking into new claims that troops used Palestinian teenagers as human shields during an operation in the West Bank city of Nablus.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem charged that while conducting a major operation against Palestinian gunmen in the city last week, troops took two minors — a 15-year-old boy and an 11-year old girl — along while they searched houses for militants and weapons, forcing them to enter the houses first.

The use of civilians in military operations has been ruled illegal by Israel’s Supreme Court and is prohibited by military orders. The army said yesterday that it was checking the new charges.

The first indication that troops used Palestinians as human shields in the Nablus operation came when an AP Television News camera captured what appeared to be such a scene on Feb. 25. The footage shows Sameh Amira, 24, accompanying troops as they enter apartments in the city’s casbah, or Old City.

The army promised a “thorough inquiry” into that incident.

Mr. Amira’s cousin, 15-year-old Amid, told B’Tselem field workers that soldiers took him at the same time as they took Mr. Amira. They forced him to come along as they searched three houses, he said, making him enter rooms first, empty cupboards and open windows.

Jihan Dadush, 11, told B’Tselem that soldiers took her from her home three days later, on Feb. 28, forcing her to open the door of a neighboring apartment and enter ahead of them. The soldiers then took her home, she said.

Until 2005, soldiers employed a tactic of making civilians knock on their neighbors’ doors to warn them of an impending raid, claiming this protected bystanders by spurring militants to surrender peacefully. But in a landmark 2005 ruling, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled the tactic illegal and barred any use of civilians in military operations.

B’Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli urged the army to open a military police investigation into the Nablus incidents. “The army must investigate what happened and act accordingly — try people, make sure the rules are clarified and understand where the failures were, in order to prevent this from happening again,” she said.

In August 2002, a 19-year-old Palestinian student, Nidal Daraghmeh, was killed when troops in the West Bank town of Tubas forced him to knock on the door of a neighboring building where a Hamas fugitive was hiding. Gunfire erupted and Mr. Daraghmeh was killed.

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