The Israeli military said today it was investigating the death of a Palestinian woman overcome by tear gas fired by soldiers at a West Bank protest.
In an unrelated incident, a Palestinian man was killed in the West Bank after trying to attack Israeli troops at a checkpoint, Palestinian and Israeli security officials said.
Contradictory accounts were given of the circumstances surrounding the death yesterday of the 36-year-old protester, Jawaher Abu Rahmeh, a day after she inhaled the gas at the weekly demonstration against Israel’s West Bank separation barrier in the village of Bilin.
Tear gas is supposed to be a non-lethal crowd control method and is used routinely by Israeli troops at protests. But doctors say the gas can kill on rare occasions if a victim has a pre-existing condition.
Mohammed Abu Rahmeh, a relative of the woman, said she had suffered from asthma since she was a child. Rateb Abu Rahmeh, a doctor and a spokesman for the Bilin protesters, said she had a “weak immune system”. Her parents said she was healthy and did not have asthma.
Dr Mohammed Eideh, who treated Abu Rahmeh in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, said she died of “respiratory failure and then cardiac arrest” caused by tear gas inhalation. He said he did not know if she had a pre-existing condition.
Another doctor said she was initially released from hospital, later collapsed, was readmitted and then died. Dr Eideh said she had not been released.
Michael Sfard, the Israeli lawyer representing the woman’s family, said troops used “incredible quantities of gas” at the protest, a weekly event that often deteriorates into violent clashes between protesters and soldiers.
Abu Rahmeh’s brother, Bassem Abu Rahmeh, was killed at a similar demonstration in 2009 after being hit by an Israeli tear gas canister, becoming the 17th Palestinian to die at barrier protests since 2004.
The military described Friday’s protest as a “violent and illegal riot” and released photographs it identified as being from the demonstration showing Palestinian youths using slingshots and a firebomb against troops. The military said it was investigating Abu Rahmeh’s death but had not been allowed to see the Palestinian medical reports.
In the incident at the West Bank checkpoint today, a Palestinian worker in his 20s attacked soldiers with a glass bottle after he was denied permission to cross, Palestinian security officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because no official statement had been released.
The Israeli military said the man approached troops with a broken bottle and ignored calls to stop before he was shot.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Shin Bet security service disclosed the indictment of two Hamas militants operating in east Jerusalem. The men purchased weapons and planned to carry out attacks before their arrest in November, according to a statement from the Shin Bet. Three other men were charged with arms dealing in the same case.
Overnight, Israeli aircraft carried out airstrikes against two targets in Hamas-controlled Gaza in response to a rocket fired from Gaza into Israel on yesterday. Gaza officials said two people were injured.