JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli rights group on Wednesday accused Israeli security forces of using "excessive and unwarranted" force in the killing of some Palestinians who attacked or were suspected of attacking Israelis during the current wave of violence.
Israeli officials rejected the charges by the B'Tselem group. The watchdog's statement said Israeli officers had used excessive lethal force against Palestinians in at least 12 cases in Jerusalem and the West Bank over the past two months.
According to the group, Israeli soldiers and police officers fired at some Palestinian assailants even after they were wounded and posed no further threat.
In some cases, it claimed officers carried out what the group called "summary executions," killing Palestinians instead of arresting and trying them in court.
Since mid-September, Palestinians have carried out near-daily stabbings, shootings and attacks in which cars or other vehicles were used to ram into Israelis, killing 19 Israelis and an American Jewish seminary student. During the current wave of violence, at least 115 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire. Israel has said that 78 of them were assailants, and the rest were killed in clashes with Israeli forces.
"This wave of violent assaults is appalling, and clearly Israel's security forces must protect the public and use the force necessary to that end, as determined by the circumstances," B'Tselem said in a statement, adding that shooting to kill is permissible if a person poses mortal danger.
"However, in at least some of the cases, firing at the assailants did not cease even after they no longer posed any danger," the group added.
Most of the Palestinian attackers, as well as others who Israel said tried to carry out attacks, have been shot on the spot by Israeli security forces.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld dismissed B'Tselem's accusations.
"The Israeli police have responded in proportion based on the threats that we have to deal with, in the same way that any other police force in the world, any other police force facing those types of threats in Europe or America, would do," Rosenfeld said.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the rights group "deliberately ignores the unique challenges facing Israel's security forces and the wave of incitement and violence which Israel and its citizens are facing.
"It is high time that B'Tselem ... care more about the Israeli victims than the Palestinian terrorists," Nahshon added.
In one incident that the B'Tselem group studied, a police officer shot two female Palestinian high school students involved in a Jerusalem stabbing attack and continued to fire at them even after they lay on the ground motionless, according to eyewitness accounts and surveillance camera footage. One of the Palestinian girls, a 16-year-old, was killed and the other was severely wounded.
Israeli authorities this week said they opened an investigation into the actions of the police officer who killed her, to determine whether he used excessive force.
In another incident, a Palestinian who Israeli officials said had wounded a civilian and a police officer in Jerusalem subsequently tried to attack a soldier who pointed a gun at him.
Video footage of the incident appears to show the Palestinian being shot and fall to the ground, and additional shots are fired at him while he was on the ground.
In a response to B'Tselem, the office of Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that "there is no authorization to carry on firing at a person who has been neutralized and no longer poses any danger."
However, Erdan had warned in an interview last week that "every terrorist who goes to carry out an attack should know that he will likely not survive the attack."
B'Tselem says such statements by Israeli leaders support killing attackers even when they no longer pose a threat.
In the latest violence, Israeli forces on Wednesday shot and killed two Palestinians who had attacked Israeli security forces during an arrest raid in a West Bank refugee camp, according to police. The Palestinians attempted to ram their vehicles into soldiers and border policemen before they were fatally shot, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
On the Gaza border, an explosive device was detonated Wednesday, targeting a military patrol, and Israeli soldiers responded by firing mortar shells toward the site of the attack, the Israeli military said.
The current round of violence erupted over tensions around a sensitive holy site in Jerusalem, sacred to both Jews and Muslims, and quickly escalated and spread. Israel says the violence is fanned by a Palestinian campaign of lies and incitement, while Palestinians say it is the result of frustrations stemming from Israel's nearly 50-year occupation.
At the United Nations in New York, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, told reporters that envoys of the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators are currently in the region for "substantive meetings" with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The Quartet is focused on Mideast peace and represents the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.
Quartet representatives met with senior Israeli officials to discuss "ending the violence, restoring security and ending incitement" as well as "future channels" for the peace process, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Also Wednesday, a Jerusalem municipal committee advanced plans to build 891 housing units in Gilo, a Jewish area of east Jerusalem that Israel considers an integral part of Jerusalem but that the international community considers an illegal settlement.
The housing plan was approved years ago but delayed due to American pressure on Israel to rein in settlement construction, according to municipal committee member Hanan Rubin. Construction was expected to begin in about a year and a half, Rubin said.
In his annual pre-Christmas address Wednesday, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, called for calm.
"What a suffering it is, to once again see our beloved Holy Land caught in the vicious cycle of bloody violence," he said. "Enough! We are tired of this conflict as we see the Holy Land sullied with blood."
Associated Press writers Daniella Cheslow in Jerusalem and Cara Anna at the United Nations contributed to this report.