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Israeli troops avoid charges over death of Palestinian teen shot in back

Samir Awad, 16, was shot dead in 2013 as he fled soldiers. Lawyer says court decision to drop case encourages 'easy trigger finger' of army
An already injured Samir Awad, 16, was shot as he ran away from Israeli soldiers (AFP)

Two Israeli soldiers have avoided prosecution over the death of Palestinian teenager Samir Awad, who was shot in the back while running away from Israeli forces in January 2013.

The 16-year-old was killed during protests in Budrus, a village in the occupied West Bank which has lost nearly 30 percent of its land due to the illegal Israeli separation wall, according to the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem.

Witnesses told Amnesty International in 2014 that Awad had entered an area between barbed wire and the separation fence when Israeli soldiers first shot him in the leg and then fired warning shots in the air.

Awad was fleeing back towards Budrus and away from the soldiers when he was shot twice more - one bullet hit his left shoulder and exited through his chest, while the other struck him in the back of the head and exited through his forehead.

The soldiers, one of whom was a platoon commander, were initially charged with recklessness and negligence, Israeli media reported.

The dropping of the indictment is another version of the easy trigger finger which allows the impunity of people who have killed so many

- Gabe Lasky, Awad family lawyer

According to Hebrew-language news outlet Walla, the Israeli Central District Attorney’s office formally retracted all charges on Tuesday, saying there was insufficient evidence of wrongdoing.

Manslaughter charges were not laid as an Israeli investigation was reportedly unable to determine who had fired the fatal shots.

Gabe Lasky, the lawyer representing Awad’s family, said the retraction represented the latest example of legal impunity for Israeli forces who use lethal violence against Palestinians.

“The dropping of the indictment is another version of the easy trigger finger which allows the impunity of people who have killed so many people in the West Bank,” she told Middle East Eye.

She said she had not been given access to case files, and would ask for them to be opened to determine whether to appeal against the withdrawal of charges or file for damages on behalf of Awad’s family.

Lasky said most cases of lethal force against Palestinians never made it to court.

The Israeli human rights NGO Yesh Din said the decision betrayed a discriminatory system that protected Israeli soldiers and left Palestinians defenceless.

“When the State Attorney's Office decides time and time again not to investigate or prosecute soldiers for harming Palestinians, it creates its own defence of discrimination,” it said.

Israeli authorities rarely charge soldiers over the deaths of Palestinians and those who are often receive short sentences, creating what Yesh Din says is an environment of "near impunity".

According to Yesh Din, 79 percent of complaints against Israeli forces for harming Palestinians and their property are closed without a criminal investigation.

Also on Tuesday, the newspaper Haaretz reported that the Israeli state prosecution had dropped plans to file a damages claim against three Israelis who kidnapped Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir in 2014.

The state sought to reclaim money paid in compensation to the family of the Abu Khdeir, who were victims of terrorism.

However, the state determined that his murderers, Yosef Chaim Ben-David and two juveniles, whose identities cannot be disclosed, did not have any money or assets.