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Some senior Israeli officials have been encouraging Israeli soldiers and police to kill Palestinians they suspect of attacking Israelis even when they are no longer a threat, Human Rights Watch said today in an analysis of those statements. Other Israeli officials have failed to repudiate the calls for excessive use of force.

Human Rights Watch has documented numerous statements since October 2015, by senior Israeli politicians, including the police minister and defense minister, calling on police and soldiers to shoot to kill suspected attackers, irrespective of whether lethal force is actually strictly necessary to protect life.

“It’s not just about potentially rogue soldiers, but also about senior Israeli officials who publicly tell security forces to unlawfully shoot to kill,” said Sari Bashi, Israel advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Whatever the results of trials of individual soldiers, the Israeli government should issue clear directives to use force only in accordance with international law.

Elor Azaria, a 20-year-old Israeli soldier, is on trial for the March 24, 2016, fatal shooting of 21-year-old Abd al-Fatah al-Sharif. Al-Sharif stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron. At issue in the trial is Azaria’s shooting of Sharif after he had been shot and injured by Israeli security officials.

There have been more than 150 instances since October 2015 in which security forces fatally shot Palestinian adults and children suspected of trying to stab, run over, or shoot Israelis in Israel and the West Bank. During that time, Palestinian assailants have killed 33 Israelis, including passersby and security officials, in Israel and the West Bank. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly condemned Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians.

International human rights law limits the intentional lethal use of firearms – shooting to kill – to circumstances in which it is strictly necessary to protect life, and in which no other, less extreme, option is viable. The Israeli open fire regulations do not note this limitation but do limit shooting at a person’s torso or head to situations in which it is necessary to prevent an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.

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