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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Palestinian killed in standoff; Amnesty says troops use excessive force against Palestinians

Israeli troops trying to arrest a wanted Palestinian opened fire and killed him on Thursday after he refused to emerge from a house they had surrounded, the army and witnesses said.

The raid came on the same day that the rights group Amnesty International alleged in a report that Israeli soldiers have used unnecessary lethal force against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and that it has found evidence of wilful killings that could amount to war crimes.

The Israeli military rejected the allegations by the London-based group, saying troops operate to contain Palestinian-initiated violence and are told to use live fire only as a last resort.

The raid in the West Bank town of Bir Zeit began at around 6 a.m., said area resident Munib Hamouri and other witnesses. Troops called on two brothers and one of their cousins from the Washaha family to give themselves up, the neighbour said.

Two of those sought by the army complied but the third, 24-year-old Moataz Washaha, remained in the building, according to Hamouri.

Troops demolished part of the outer wall of the house with a bulldozer and fired projectiles into the building, the witnesses said. Fire erupted in the house, they said. Several hours after the start of the standoff, Washaha's body was removed from the building.

A doctor at Ramallah Hospital said Washaha's head was split open after being struck by a projectile.

The army said the man killed Thursday was wanted for violent activity, but did not elaborate or give his name. It said soldiers opened fire after he ignored calls to emerge from the house and that an assault rifle was later found in the building.

Meanwhile, Amnesty said in its report that it documented the killing of 22 Palestinian civilians by Israeli troops in the West Bank last year, including 14 killed during protests. Of those killed, four were children, Amnesty said.

The report said soldiers' lives did not appear to be in danger in any of the cases. It said troops acted with "near total impunity" and that a pattern of unlawful killings has emerged.

The Israeli military said the report ignored a substantial increase in Palestinian violence last year, including rock-throwing and shooting attacks.

"Where feasible, the IDF contains this life-threatening violence using riot dispersal means, including loud sirens, water cannons, sound grenades and tear gas," an army statement said. "Only once these tools have been exhausted and human life and safety remains under threat, is the use of precision munition authorized."

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Associated Press writers Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank contributed to this report.

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