RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Israeli forces shot and killed a 15-year-old Palestinian girl during a pre-dawn raid in the West Bank, the Palestinian Health Ministry said Monday, drawing condemnation from the United Nations and rights groups. It marked the latest bloodshed in the biggest spasm of violence in the occupied territory in years.
The circumstances surrounding the death of the teenage girl in the city of Beitunia in the central West Bank, identified by Palestinian health officials as Fulla al-Masalmeh, were not fully clear. The Israeli military said soldiers opened fire on a vehicle that was accelerating toward them after they signaled for it to stop. The military said it was investigating, and declined to comment further.
But a witness claimed the girl's car posed no apparent danger to the Israeli troops, some of whom were crouched behind a line of parked cars and could not have been easily visible to an approaching driver.
Palestinian assailants have carried out dozens of attempted stabbings and car rammings in recent years. But Palestinians and human rights groups say that Israeli troops often use excessive force, and in some cases, have shot people who did not pose a threat — without being held accountable. The military says it contends with complex, life-threatening scenarios.
The top U.N. Mideast envoy, Tor Wennesland, wrote on Twitter that he was “appalled by the tragic killing” and urged Israel to conduct an “immediate and thorough investigation."
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, a watchdog, said al-Masalmeh's killing “reflects a serious disregard for Palestinian lives.”
From Beitunia, Bakr Armoush, a 35-year-old resident, said Israeli troops had burst into the town and arrested his neighbor around 3:30 a.m. From his window, he watched some 20 soldiers searching the parked cars in front of his building. Then a car approached from a substantial distance away. It was moving carefully, he said, estimating some 20-30 kilometers per hour (12-18 miles per hour).
“I didn't see them do anything suspicious,” he said.
All of a sudden, a group of Israeli soldiers stationed behind parked cars opened fire on the vehicle without apparent warning, he said. The rest of the forces joined in, spraying the vehicle with bullets. After the torrent of gunfire, a male driver staggered out of the car, bleeding and raising his hands over his head, he said. He saw a girl slumped over in the passenger seat.
An Israeli military official, who asked to speak anonymously because the incident was being investigated, said the car was advancing in an erratic, zigzag motion and was accelerating and braking repeatedly.
Photos of the aftermath on social media showed asphalt stained with blood, makeup spilling through the shattered dashboard onto the car's silver hood.
Diaa Kurt, the mayor of Beitunia, said that Israeli forces arrested the driver of the car, who surrendered.
The Palestinian Health Ministry initially misidentified the deceased. A Palestinian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case, said that after notifying the wrong family, police culled through the West Bank's missing persons database. They ultimately determined the deceased was al-Masalmeh, originally from the Palestinian town of Beit Awwa in the southern West Bank. Al-Masalmeh had been living with her mother in al-Bireh, near Ramallah, the official said.
Al-Masalmeh's mother, brother and sister identified her at the morgue of the Palestine Medical Complex in Ramallah on Monday evening. They were sobbing, too distraught to speak to journalists and even identify themselves by name. Her mother, connected to an IV tube, collapsed before she could enter the morgue, yanking the catheter down with her. Medical staff carried the young mother to the hospital so she could recover. Al-Masalmeh’s sister, who also appeared to be a teenager, identified the body.
Israeli-Palestinian tensions have soared in recent months, with the Israeli military carrying out nightly raids in the West Bank since the spring, when a spate of attacks against Israelis killed 19 people.
More than 130 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the West Bank and east Jerusalem this year, making 2022 the deadliest since 2006. The Israeli army says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.
The intensified raids have prompted a series of Palestinian shooting attacks that have killed at least four more Israelis in recent weeks.
Israel says the raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks. The Palestinians say the raids are aimed at cementing Israel’s open-ended 55-year-old occupation of lands they want for their hoped-for state.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians seek all three territories for their future independent state.
In a separate incident within Israel on Monday, Israeli police said a soldier shot an Israeli man in the city of Raanana, north of Tel Aviv. Police said the soldier suspected the man was about to carry out an attack. Israeli media reported the man appeared to have mental health issues and was later pronounced dead.
DeBre reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Tia Goldenberg in Tel Aviv, Israel, contributed to this report.