JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military on Monday acknowledged that its troops fatally shot a teenage Palestinian girl during an operation in the occupied West Bank, saying she was unintentionally hit by fire aimed at gunmen in the area.
It was a rare admission of an error by the military, which has carried out daily arrest operations in the West Bank for nearly nine months. Israel’s prime minister expressed sorrow over the girl’s death, but said the operations in the area would continue.
About 150 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the West Bank and east Jerusalem this year, making it the deadliest year since 2006.
The Israeli army says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting Israeli army incursions and others not involved in confrontations, including a prominent Al Jazeera journalist, have also been killed in the fighting.
Palestinian officials said Jana Zakaran, 16, was killed overnight Monday in the northern city of Jenin on the roof of her home.
In a statement, the Israeli military said an initial inquiry found the girl “was hit by unintentional fire aimed at armed gunmen” on a nearby rooftop. “It appears the girl who was killed had been on the roof of one of the houses near the gunmen,” it said.
It said the forces opened fire after local militants hurled firebombs and opened fire at the soldiers.
The army said that its commanders “regret any harm to uninvolved civilians,” but said that it would press ahead with its operations.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid issued a statement expressing sorrow over the girl’s death and sent condolences to her family. He also expressed support for Israel’s soldiers and said operations in the West Bank would continue while Israel would do its “utmost” to avoid civilian casualties.
Salah al-Zayed, a cousin and neighbor, said Zakaran had gone onto the roof to search for her cat when she was shot. He said the family heard gunshots but did not know she was up there, and only found her body about an hour later after the army withdrew.
He said the girl was shot four times, including twice in the head. He rejected claims that the shooting was an accident, saying she was far from the battlefield and there were no militants nearby.
“They killed her in cold blood,” he said. “We want justice and this is the least of her rights. She had the right to live like any other child and to be happy, not to be killed in cold blood.”
Jenin is known as a stronghold of militants. The army has long operated in the area, stepping up its activities after a series of deadly attacks inside Israel last spring, some of which were carried out by militants from Jenin.
Jenin is home to the refugee camp where Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed last May. The army has said its forces most likely shot her unintentionally, but has provided no evidence to back up the claim that she might have been hit by Palestinian gunmen in the area. Al Jazeera last week asked the International Criminal Court in the Hague to investigate the shooting.
Israel has been conducting daily arrest raids throughout the West Bank, in an operation prompted by a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis in the spring that killed 19 people.
The military says the raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks, but the Palestinians say they entrench Israel’s open-ended occupation, now in its 56th year.
At least 31 people have died in Arab attacks in Israel and the occupied West Bank this year, according to Israeli figures.