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Israel: Contradictory accounts raise questions over Tel Aviv 'car-ramming'

Family of Palestinian driver shot dead in the incident demand release of body cam footage
Israeli police gather around an overturned car at the site of an alleged attack in Tel Aviv on 7 April 2023 (AFP)

The family of a Palestinian citizen of Israel, who was shot dead by police after allegedly carrying out a "car ramming" are raising doubts over the authorities' justification for killing him after law enforcement and medics made contradictory claims over what happened.

Israeli police initially labelled the incident, which took place on Friday and left one person dead, as a "terror attack" involving a "shooting and a car-ramming".

A car had crashed into a crowd of people after speeding towards Tel Aviv's beach promenade before overturning.

An Italian citizen, Alessandro Parini, was killed and seven others were wounded. 

After the vehicle flipped, the driver - later identified as Yousef Abu Jaber from Kafr Qasim city - was shot by a police officer who said he thought Abu Jaber was carrying a gun.

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Later, authorities said the object in question turned out to be a toy gun. 

Police and the internal security agency Shin Bet then said they were looking into the possibility that it was not a terror attack.

Following the autopsies of Abu Jaber and Parini, and an investigation, authorities doubled down on their initial assessment.

"He entered the promenade area quickly and maneuvered between the concrete blocks to get on the bike route and hit as many people as possible," a senior police officer told Haaretz, adding that he "intentionally drove at high speed" and "continued to accelerate and hit another group of people".

But Abu Jaber’s family is disputing the police's version of events, claiming that it was a car accident and not an attack. 

'The policemen who shot and killed him took on the role of prosecutor and judge, and tried him right there in the field'

- Omar Abu Jaber, brother 

"He didn't have a nationalist background, he paid no attention to the news," said Omar Abu Jaber, Yousef's brother.

"We saw how a barrage of shots were fired at him while he lay on the floor," Omar Abu Jaber said. "They could have taken him into custody without killing him. Logically speaking, three armed men could have arrested him alive."

According to Omar: "The policemen who shot and killed him took on the role of prosecutor and judge, and tried him right there in the field."

The family is demanding to see additional documentation from the incident, including the bodycam footage from the police officers involved and footage from security cameras, but the police are refusing to release the recordings.

They have also pointed out that the police and emergency services have changed their story multiple times, casting doubt over how the events unfolded. 

Initially, the ambulance service stated that Parini had sustained gunshot wounds, but later retracted the statement. 

Italian media initially reported that a bullet was discovered in Parini's body during a CT scan, but the Israeli investigation has since ruled out this possibility.

The autopsy performed on him concluded that he was killed by the impact of the vehicle and that no bullet wounds were found. 

The Mossawa Center, an advocacy organisations for Palestinian citizen of Israel, called the incident a "tragic car accident".

The centre told Middle East Eye that Abu Jaber's family have contacted them over the incident and reiterated there were no political motivations behind the incident, which they insisted was a car accident.

“[The family] is also aware of the Italian investigation of the accident and will cooperate fully with said investigation,” Layla Gantus, from the Mossawa, told MEE. 

Abu Jaber was a 45-year-old father of five with no known prior security offences.

His killing came as tensions were running high in Israel and Palestinian cities following repeated Israeli attacks on Palestinian worshippers in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque last week.

Israeli Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai had called on licensed gun owners to start carrying their weapons to respond to potential attacks by Palestinians just hours before the Tel Aviv beach incident. 

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