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Calls for UK to act over Britons shot dead in Gaza

From The Guardian

The attorney general was last night called on to seek war crimes charges against five Israeli officers after an inquest jury found that a soldier under their command intentionally killed a British peace activist in Gaza.

Tom Hurndall, 22, died after being shot in broad daylight by an Israeli soldier who later said his commanders had issued orders allowing him to shoot even unarmed civilians. Sergeant Taysir Hayb was convicted of manslaughter by an Israeli court and jailed for eight years for shooting Mr Hurndall in April 2003 as the Briton tried to rescue children who froze in fear after the soldier opened fire.

Yesterday a jury at St Pancras coroner’s court in London found Mr Hurndall had been unlawfully killed and deliberately shot by the soldier “with the intention of killing him”. Lawyers for the Hurndall family said this amounted to a finding that the peace activist had been murdered.

Last week the same court found that a journalist, James Miller, had been murdered after being shot by an Israeli soldier three weeks after Mr Hurndall, and just one mile away in southern Gaza.

Andrew Reid, the coroner who heard both cases, announced he would write to the attorney general about how similar fatalities could be prevented, including examining possible prosecutions of Israeli commanders. In court Dr Reid said he would write to the attorney because the case raised wider issues of command in the Israeli military and because “two British citizens engaged in lawful activities” had been killed by Israeli soldiers.

Dr Reid said Israel’s army posed a danger to British nationals, especially those covering the continuing conflict with the Palestinians: “British citizens, journalists, photographers or others may be subject to the risk of fatal shots.”

The coroner said he would write to the attorney general about whether his powers under the Geneva Conventions Act, namely seeking the prosecution of those involved in issuing orders about when soldiers can shoot, could “prevent similar fatalities”. Dr Reid’s actions boost the Hurndall family’s demand that Israeli officers be tried for involvement in the killing of their son.

The dead man’s father, Anthony Hurndall, said: “The British government is obliged to pursue any source of a war crime, and wilful killing is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions Act.”

After the verdict a government source told the Guardian the attorney general would “not shy away” from acting, and that “upsetting the Israelis” would not stop the case being pursued.

Michael Mansfield QC, who represented the family at the inquest, said: “Make no mistake about it, the Israeli defence force have today been found culpable by this jury of murder.”

The family will seek a meeting with senior British ministers to press them to act, and do not rule out a private prosecution.

The jury criticised Israel for its “lack of cooperation” with the inquest, with the Israeli government declining to take part and even hampering a British police investigation. In court Anthony Hurndall accused Israel of “lies”.

The jury heard extracts from the journal of the peace activist, who travelled to Gaza with the International Solidarity Movement. Days before he was shot, Mr Hurndall, a photography student from north London, wrote how he had already been fired at: “I kept expecting a part of my body to be hit by an ‘invisible’ force and shot of pain … I wondered what it would be like to be shot, and strangely I wasn’t too scared.”

In a later passage he writes about being in the sights of an Israeli sniper: “It is in the decision of any one Israeli soldier or settler that my life depends. I know that I’d probably never know what hit me.”

Israel’s embassy in London expressed sympathy for the Hurndall family and said: “Throughout the investigation and trial, the Israeli authorities maintained close contact with both the Hurndall family and the British authorities, and at the conclusion of the proceedings a full account was given to them.”