The Israeli army is investigating whether its troops used two Palestinian children as human shields during a house search operation in the West Bank following claims by the Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem.
The use of human shields to deter gunmen from opening fire on soldiers was banned by Israel's supreme court and forbidden by the army. However the practice, in which soldiers force Palestinians to approach, enter and search buildings where they believe gunmen may be hiding, remains common.
Israelis soldiers were filmed using Sameh Amira, 24, as a human shield on February 25, during a week-long raid into the West Bank city of Nablus. Mr Amira was made to search homes in the city's casbah, or old city, during a search for wanted men and bomb-making laboratories. The casbah in the centre of the city was placed under curfew for two days and a Palestinian man was shot dead when he went onto the roof of his home.
Mr Amira's cousin, 15-year-old Amid Amira, told B'Tselem that soldiers also forced him to search three houses, making him enter rooms, empty cupboards and open windows.
An 11-year-old girl, Jihan Dadush, told B'Tselem that soldiers took her from her home three days later, on February 28, forcing her to open the door of a neighboring apartment and enter ahead of them. The soldiers then took her home, she said.
In her testimony to B'Tselem, Jihan said that after the soldiers left, "I was shaking with fear. I was afraid they would kill me or put me in jail. The only thing I wanted to do was sleep. I am afraid that the soldiers will come back and take me".
B'Tselem said that it was clear from the testimonies that the soldiers believed the houses presented a risk and that they were therefore knowingly placing the Palestinians in danger.
Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for B'Tselem said that the group had written to the judge advocate-general to demand a thorough investigation of the use of human shields. "The use of civilians especially a 11-year-old is very problematic and we want the army to investigate it properly using military police rather than an internal inquiry mechanism."
In August 2002, a 19-year-old Palestinian student, Nidal Daraghmeh, was killed when troops in the West Bank town of Tubas forced him to knock on the door of a neighbouring building where a Hamas fugitive was hiding. Gunfire erupted and Daraghmeh was killed.