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Israeli military investigating Palestinian's death in West Bank confrontation

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A Palestinian man died after a confrontation with Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank on Thursday that the Palestinian Authority condemned as a “cold-blooded execution”.

The Israeli military said the man had attempted to attack troops and that it was investigating the incident.

In security camera footage posted on social media and carried by Israeli news sites, soldiers could be seen kicking and striking a man, identified by Palestinian officials as Yassin Omar Serda, after detaining him in the town of Jericho.

In a statement, the military said the man was armed with an iron rod and ran toward the soldiers in an attempt to strike them. The troops, it said, were on a raid to arrest “suspects” in the town.

“In response to the immediate threat, the troops fired toward the assailant and confronted him from close range and were able to stop him,” the military said.

“A knife was also found in his possession. Troops evacuated him to a hospital to receive medical treatment. His death was later announced. The incident is being reviewed.”

The Palestinian Information Ministry said about 20 soldiers had administered a “heavy beating” to Serda, especially on his stomach and back.

“The Information Ministry views (his) martyrdom … shortly after his arrest a cold-blooded execution,” it said.

Serda’s family said it was seeking to have an autopsy performed.

Israeli troops frequently mount raids in the West Bank to detain suspected militants. Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

An Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, was sentenced last February to 18 months imprisonment for killing a wounded and incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the West Bank town of Hebron in 2015. He was convicted of manslaughter, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

His trial was one of the most divisive in Israeli history. Supporters argued he was justified in shooting a Palestinian whom they said had intended to kill Israelis. The military said he violated standing orders and that his conduct was unbecoming of an Israeli soldier.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Ori Lewis, Mustafa Abu Ganayeh and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Janet Lawrence

References

  1. ^ The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles. (thomsonreuters.com)
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US, S. Korea Military Exercises Could End Outreach to Nuclear North

SEOUL — 

The resumption of U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, which were postponed until after the PyeongChang Olympics and Paralympics end in late March, could also mark the end of the current diplomatic outreach to North Korea.

The annual joint exercises include the Key Resolve strategic simulation drill, where U.S. and South Korean troops and military assets are deployed to respond to potential North Korean threats, and field exercises called Foal Eagle. Past drills involved nearly 20,000 American troops, 300,000 South Korean forces, and an array of bomber aircrafts, fighter jets and warships.

Needed deterrence

Military leaders deem these conventional exercises to be essential to maintain defense readiness and deterrence against the growing North Korean nuclear threat. It is also standard practice for every country in the world to conduct ongoing training for soldiers that are continually being drafted or deployed.

“All militaries train. The Korean People’s Army in North Korea trains. The PLA (People’s Liberation Army) trains in China. That’s what militaries do,” said North Korea security analyst Daniel Pinkston, a lecturer in international relations with Troy University in Seoul

North Korea has called these joint exercises threatening rehearsals for invasion.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in negotiated a delay in this year’s exercises to ensure the safety of the winter Olympics games being held close to the inter-Korean border. North Korea’s participation in the Olympics has also been accompanied by a pause in its missile launches and nuclear tests. In the year prior, Pyongyang conducted numerous provocative tests, after publicly setting the goal to develop a functional nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile that can target the U.S. mainland.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in talks with president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of North Korea Kim Young Nam as Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, looks on.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in talks with president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea Kim Young Nam as Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, looks on.

In response, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has led an international effort to impose harsh sanctions on the North that cut off much of its income, including banning its lucrative coal and mineral exports.

Freeze for freeze

Moon’s diplomatic outreach has enacted what is basically a temporary “freeze for freeze” proposal, suspending both the U.S.-South Korea joint drills and North Korean provocations that China and Russia have been advocating to reduce regional tensions.

Washington has so far rejected any proposals to further suspend conventional military exercises that it argues are defense oriented and legal under international law, while it says North Korea’s nuclear program threatens its neighbors and the world.

There is, however, speculation that Washington and Seoul may try to reduce the size and scope of the exercises to make them less threatening to the North, perhaps by eliminating decapitation simulations that practice targeting leadership in Pyongyang, or excluding U.S. nuclear capable bombers from participating in the drills.

“The question is what level of the exercises is adequate for military preparedness and for robust deterrence purposes, and how do you calibrate it in a way that is nonthreatening,” said Pinkston.

In this Nov. 12, 2017 photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, three U.S. aircraft carriers USS Nimitz, left top, USS Ronald Reagan, left center, and USS Theodore Roosevelt, left bottom, participate with other U.S. and South Korean navy ships.
In this Nov. 12, 2017 photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, three U.S. aircraft carriers USS Nimitz, left top, USS Ronald Reagan, left center, and USS Theodore Roosevelt, left bottom, participate with other U.S. and South Korean navy ships.

But Pyongyang has warned it would respond to the resumption of the joint drills, possibly by resuming provocative nuclear and missile tests, even if it means triggering further sanctions.

“The North Korean authority must do its own calculation about gains and losses about such an action in protest to the resumption of the military exercises. So it is all up to Kim Jong on government,” said Bong Young-shik, a political analyst with the Yonsei University’s Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul.

Olympic engagement

North Korea’s official KCNA news agency on Monday said restarting the drills would be a “provocative act” that would undermine Pyongyang’s recent efforts to “defuse tension and create a peaceful environment.”

Moon’s Olympic engagement efforts with the North, including marching together at the opening ceremony and fielding a unified women’s hockey team, has reduced inter-Korean tensions and brought about an invitation from the North Korean leader to host the South Korean president in Pyongyang for a leaders summit.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets members of the high-level delegation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which visited South Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympics.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets members of the high-level delegation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which visited South Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympics.

By participating in the Olympics, Pyongyang also embarked on what critics called a “charm offensive,” meant to improve its threatening image and weaken support for economic sanctions imposed for its continued nuclear violations.

Moon’s diplomatic outreach, however, has so far been unable to bring Washington and Pyongyang into direct talks to resolve the nuclear standoff. The U.S. will not engage in official negotiations until the North agrees to give up its nuclear program, which Pyongyang refuses to do, insisting that its nuclear weapons are needed to prevent a U.S. invasion.

“History does not give me much confidence that this will lead anywhere, especially when the bargaining position of the U.S. side is that the North does have to give up its weapon nuclear weapons and parts of its missile program,” said regional security analyst Grant Newsham with the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo.

The Trump administration recently indicated a willingness to support Moon’s efforts and engage in exploratory talks. U.S. officials on Tuesday said Vice President Mike Pence, who led the U.S. Olympic delegation at the Olympics opening ceremony, was planning to meet with Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the North Korean leader at the games, but North Korea canceled the meeting at the last minute.

However the vice president also clarified that the U.S. “maximum pressure” approach, which includes increasing economic sanctions and maintaining the credible threat of military force as well, would remain in place until the Kim government agrees to give up its nuclear weapons.

Lee Yoon-jee in Seoul contributed to this report.