Jerusalem court rules state responsible for death of Palestinian girl shot by rubber bullet

JERUSALEM (AP) — A Jerusalem court decided in a ruling made public Tuesday that the Israeli state was responsible for the death of a 10-year-old Palestinian girl killed by gunfire more than three years ago as she stood some distance from a demonstration.

The case gained wide attention because the girl's father, Basam Aramin, was a Palestinian militant turned advocate for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. He helped found Combatants for Peace, a group of former Israeli and Palestinian fighters who work for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Abir Aramin was critically wounded in January 2007 as Israeli border police were dispersing a demonstration of rock-throwing youths in the village of Anata, north of Jerusalem. The girl was standing some distance away and was hit by a rubber-coated bullet. She died two days later in a Jerusalem hospital.

Police initially said she was killed by a stray rock thrown by a Palestinian.

"There cannot be any dispute over the conclusion that Abir was hit by a rubber bullet fired by border police, meaning the fire was conducted either due to negligence or violation of the rules of engagement," the court said in its ruling.

Israeli border police are paramilitary units responsible for crowd and riot control.

During the decades of Palestinian protests against Israeli occupation, Israeli forces have frequently used rubber-coated steel pellets for crowd control. They usually cause painful but non-lethal wounds, but can also be fatal.

The court ruled on the case Monday, but lawyers only spoke about the decision on Tuesday.

"We received the news with tears," said the father Aramin, 42. "Her killing is an open wound that will bleed through our lives, even if the killer is punished. But certainly, we felt some justice has been achieved so far. For justice to be complete, her killer must be put in jail."

The court's decision to blame the state is rare, said the family's lawyer, Leah Tsemel. Cases involving Israeli forces wounding or killing Palestinians rarely make it beyond an initial investigation.

Another hearing is expected in October to determine compensation, she added.

After the case was closed by police, an Israeli human rights organization pressed for an autopsy, which ended up showing the girl was hit by a stray rubber bullet rather than a rock.

The family is also pursuing a separate case in Israel's Supreme Court to charge the policeman who shot the bullet. A police spokesman was not available for comment. The Israeli Justice Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that the evidence is not strong enough to win a conviction.

Also Tuesday, two Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded by a mortar shell fired from Gaza. The incident came a day after Israeli troops killed a Palestinian militant from Islamic Jihad. The Israeli military said the militant was planting a bomb along the border.

Late Tuesday, Israeli warplanes struck targets including Hamas training facilities in five locations in Gaza, Palestinian security officials said. No one was hurt. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.