Middle East

Israeli soldier cleared over Palestinian's death

Palestinian protester Mustafa Tamimi before (L) and after he was hit in the face by a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during a weekly rally against Israel's controversial separation barrier in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh on 9 December 2011
Image caption Pictures taken at the time showed Mustafa Tamimi being shot from close range

An Israeli military investigation has cleared a soldier over the death of a Palestinian protester struck in the face by a tear-gas canister in 2011.

Mustafa Tamimi, 28, was shot at close range while throwing stones at army vehicles in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh.

Human rights groups said the soldier had breached regulations.

But the internal investigation said he "did not see any people in the line of fire" and was not criminally liable.

The findings were rejected by Tamimi's brother, Louai, who said he had not been approached by investigators despite witnessing the incident.

'Investigative failure'

Louai said he had been standing next to his brother throwing stones, about four or five metres (13-16ft) from the army jeep when the soldier opened fire.

"When the soldier shot the tear gas, there is no doubt that he saw us, and struck my brother directly," he told the Reuters news agency.

Photographs taken at the time showed Tamimi running towards the vehicle, the tear-gas launcher emerging from a partially-opened rear door, the canister travelling through the air, and then Tamimi falling to the ground, clutching his face.

Israeli military spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner said the death was an "individual tragedy, with an awful outcome", but that the soldiers involved had "operated within the realm of their responsibility".

"Tamimi put himself at unnecessary risk, unfortunately resulting in his death," he added.

Lt Col Lerner also said a Palestinian witness had refused to testify.

Image caption Mustafa Tamimi's brother said the Israeli soldier had seen him before shooting

However, the Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem, said the military's account was not in line with its own regulations governing tear gas.

The investigators "did not explain how the firing of a tear-gas canister from the back of a moving vehicle, towards the road, under conditions that made it impossible to ensure it would not hit a person, could be deemed legal", B'Tselem added.

The group said the military's rules of engagement forbid shooting tear gas canisters directly at people.

The group said the shooting was well-documented and the fact that it took two years to reach a decision "clearly demonstrates the failure of the military investigation system".

"Under such circumstances, it is only a matter of time before yet another unarmed Palestinian civilian is killed in this way. For Palestinians in the West Bank, the decision is a clear message that they cannot expect justice from Israel's legal system."