JERUSALEM: Israel's army has been criticised for its use of live fire against Palestinians, as concern mounts among human rights organisations over the civilian death toll since the start of the year.
Five young Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers this month, another was killed last month and a seventh death is disputed by the Israeli military.
The army's use of "non-lethal crowd control measures" is also being questioned, with the release of a report that says since 2005 six Palestinians have been killed by rubber-coated metal bullets, another two died when hit by tear-gas canisters fired directly at them, and at least two other Palestinians have been killed with 0.22-calibrebullets used to disperse demonstrations.
Dozens of Palestinians have been seriously injured by use of these weapons, according to the report from the human rights group B'Tselem, which also found security forces had killed at least 46 Palestinians when firing live ammunition at stone-throwers in the West Bank from 2005 to the end of 2012.
The deaths occurred despite the fact that "the Israeli military's standing orders explicitly state that live ammunition may not be fired at stone-throwers," the B'Tselem report said.
It said "no member of the Israeli security forces had been prosecuted for the lethal firing of extended-range tear-gas grenades or for the decision to introduce the use of a potentially lethal weapon".
Military and Border Police personnel "systematically breach the existing orders and fire rubber-coated bullets even under circumstances prohibited by these orders", the report said.
The Israel Defence Force rejected the B'Tselem report's findings. It said in a written response the report presented "a biased narrative, relying primarily on incidents that are either old or still under investigation by the Military Police".
"IDF Rules of Engagement . . . are very clearly defined . . . Every soldier who is expected to contend with these situations regularly trains with riot dispersal means and is carefully taught the [rules of engagement].
"The IDF does everything in its power to ensure that the use of riot dispersal means is done in accordance with the Rules of Engagement, minimising collateral damage and maintaining stability and security in the region."
The youngest Palestinian to be killed this year was 15-year-old Salah Amarin, who died last Wednesday after being shot in the head near Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem. The IDF said he had been using a slingshot to launch stones during an earlier protest.
Lubna al-Hanash, 22, was shot in the head while walking on a college campus near Hebron with a female friend.
The common thread to all of these cases is that none of these people posed any grave threat to the soldiers.Sarit Michaeli, B'Tselem spokeswoman
The IDF has confirmed the incident, saying there were Palestinians in the area throwing petrol bombs. But a witness to the shooting, Lubna's friend Suad Jaara, 28, who was also injured in the attack, told Ma'an News Agency "there was nobody in the area except Lubna and I".
Samir Awad, 16, was shot on January 15 after crossing one of the security fences near his home in Budrus.
Witnesses said Samir was running away from the soldiers when one or more of them opened fire. Ayed Morrar, a member of the village popular resistance committee, told The Guardian: "They shot him in cold blood, they shot him in the back. He wasn't threatening them."
At the time the IDF said Awad was "attempting to infiltrate into Israel" and an IDF spokeswoman confirmed "the case is currently under investigation by the Military Police".
Three days earlier, Uday Darwish, 21, was shot after attempting to cross the security barrier near Hebron – he was unarmed, Palestinian sources said.
Last month, Mohammed al-Salaymeh was killed at a checkpoint in Hebron as he went to buy a cake for his 17th birthday — soldiers said he pulled a toy gun from his bag, but some of the IDF's claims were also disputed by witnesses.
In Gaza, Anwar al-Mamlouk, 19, was shot near the border fence on January 11, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said.
The spokeswoman for B'Tselem, Sarit Michaeli, said: "We are very worried by the recent cluster of cases where members of the security forces have killed Palestinians either involved in stone-throwing or other incidents – the common thread to all of these cases is that none of these people posed any grave threat to the soldiers.
"The open fire regulations prohibit the use of live ammunition unless the soldiers or anyone else are in grave danger. It is too early to know whether this is a trend that will continue, but it seems like the army is in denial about this issue – there is a denial there is a problem in terms of live ammunition and crowd control measures, and there is a lack of accountability."
However the Israel Defence Force said it "carefully investigates complaints that are tendered, instigating Military Police investigations when necessary, as per the policy determined by the Supreme Court and in line with the IDF's ethical code".
Yehuda Shaul, co-founder of the group Breaking the Silence, which documents the testimonies of former Israeli soldiers, said the recent cases appeared to be "a clear violation of the official rules of engagement of the IDF".
"It is disturbing that there is no backlash to this atmosphere – we have not seen a chief of staff of IDF take a strong stand against this, we haven't seen a politician take a strong stand against this."
The distance between the rules of engagement and what happened in the field was vast, Mr Shaul said.
"In terms of the use of what the army calls non-lethal weapons, our finding shows that aiming directly at people with tear gas canisters is pretty widespread, that rubber bullets, in a huge amount of cases, are fired against the regulations."