Omar Kawasmeh Shot: Wrong Man Killed By Israel In Hamas Raid

01/07/2011 10:07 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

HEBRON, West Bank — Israeli troops mistakenly shot and killed a 65-year-old Palestinian man in his bed during a pre-dawn raid Friday to arrest a Hamas militant in the West Bank, Palestinian and Israeli officials said.

Late Friday, the Israeli military said a soldier was killed and four others wounded by friendly fire after a gunbattle broke out with Palestinian militants along the border with Gaza.

Palestinian security and rescue officials in the West Bank city of Hebron said Israeli troops shot and killed 65-year-old Omar Kawasmeh, who lived in the same building but on a different floor as the Hamas militant targeted in the early morning raid.

Associated Press Television footage showed a bloodstained bed and shell casings in Kawasmeh's bedroom.

The Israeli military said in a statement that it "regrets the outcome of the incident" and was investigating. Soldiers still arrested the wanted militant, Wael Mahmoud Said Bitar, during the raid.

The military said Bitar planned suicide bombings before his arrest by the Palestinian Authority two years ago. One of the suicide bombings killed an Israeli woman and injured ten other civilians in southern Israel in 2008.

Bitar was one of six Hamas fighters released from prison Thursday by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian officials said. The militants, who had launched a hunger strike to protest their incarceration, were freed following a series of high-level contacts between Hamas officials and Palestinian Authority officials, as well as an intervention by the emir of Qatar.

The Israeli military said five of the freed militants – including the target of the raid in which the man was killed – were arrested overnight.

The Western-backed Palestinian Authority has cracked down on Hamas in areas of the West Bank under its control. Hamas, an Islamic group backed by Iran, runs a competing Palestinian government in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas regularly condemns the Palestinian Authority for its cooperation with Israel, and did so again after the Kawasmeh's death Friday. Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said the Palestinian Authority and Israel were "equal in their responsibility" for the killing.

The Palestinian Authority wields limited authority in the West Bank under Israel's overall security control. While Palestinian forces trained by the U.S. have become more effective, Israel still deems them incapable of preventing attacks on Israel and Israeli forces regularly carry out arrest raids in West Bank cities.

The firefight later Friday along the Gaza border began after soldiers spotted armed Palestinians militants planting explosives along the frontier, a spokesman for the Israeli military said.

He said an initial inquiry shows the soldiers were likely wounded by friendly fire when a mortar shell missed the militants and hit the soldiers instead. A military investigation is being opened into the incident, he said.

No Palestinian militant group took responsibility for the attack. Palestinian militants frequently plant explosives along the border with Israel and attack Israeli soldiers guarding the buffer zone.

Violence in the Hamas-ruled territory has declined since Israel's Gaza offensive two years ago. The campaign aimed to end years of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel, but rocket fire and border clashes still occur occasionally.

Also Friday, several hundred Palestinians, Israelis and international activists attended a weekly demonstration against the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank village of Bilin.

Some held banners with photographs of Jawaher Abu Rahmeh, a 36-year-old villager who collapsed at last week's protest and died the next day. Palestinian doctors who treated Abu Rahmeh said she collapsed after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops and died as a result of the gas.

The Israeli military says there are "inconsistencies" in the Palestinian account and is investigating the death. Relatives have given conflicting accounts about whether Abu Rahmeh had a pre-existing condition that might have turned the ordinarily non-lethal gas deadly in her case.