RAMALLAH // Israel is breaking its own rules of engagement by using deadly force to disperse unarmed Palestinian protesters in the occupied West Bank, an Israeli rights group reported today.
Israeli forces have killed 56 people since 2005 in clashes with rock-throwing Palestinians, said B'Tselem, which accused the military of having "extensively and systematically" breached rules barring deadly retaliation for non-lethal assault.
"The Israeli military's standing orders explicitly state that live ammunition may not be fired at stone-throwers," it said.
In the past two weeks, Israeli forces have shot dead two Palestinians in unrest that Israeli officials said may foreshadow a third Palestinian uprising. Peace talks have been frozen since 2010 and Palestinian anger is running high against expanding Jewish settlement in the West Bank, captured along with east Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights in the 1967 war.
The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) said the B'Tselem report "presents a biased narrative, relying primarily on incidents that are either old or still under investigation by the military police".
"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," the IDF said.
Of the Palestinian fatalities since 2005, six were killed by rubber-coated metal bullets and two by tear-gas canisters, both supposedly non-lethal weapons that were fired directly at protesters, B'Tselem said.
"In practice, members of the security forces make almost routine use of these weapons in unlawful, dangerous ways, and the relevant Israeli authorities do too little to prevent the recurrence of this conduct," the report said.
The other 48 protesters killed where hit by live ammunition, according to the group.
The protests come as sanctions imposed by Israel after Palestinians won de facto statehood recognition at the United Nations have crippled the Palestinian government in the West Bank and deepened economic malaise.
Faced with the threat of a general strike by the government workers' union, top Palestinian officials have encouraged protesters to direct their anger against Israel instead.