Israeli soldier is convicted of killing British student

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The Independent Online

A former Israeli soldier has been found guilty by a military court of shooting dead the British student Tom Hurndall while he acted as a human shield for Palestinian children amid gunfire in the Gaza Strip.

Anthony Hurndall, Tom's father, welcomed the outcome, but said he was disappointed the Israeli judges had not investigated higher up the chain of command.

Tom, 22, a photography student, was shot in the head with a single round in April 2003. The three judges convicted former sergeant Wahid Taysir on all counts: manslaughter; obstructing justice; submitting and obtaining false testimony and unbecoming behaviour.

Mr Hurndall, a London lawyer, told The Independent before flying home last night: "This seems to be one incident in a pattern, a system and a policy of very indiscriminate shooting and very little accountability.

"The fact that one soldier has been prosecuted is not really satisfactory because the only reason he was charged was that a British family put a lot of time into preparing a case and had tremendous support from the Foreign Office. We don't feel that the underlying policy has been addressed."

Taysir will be sentenced in August. The maximum penalty for manslaughter is 20 years. Captain Hilla Gorni, the prosecuting officer, said: "We are going to ask for a very serious sentence. This verdict shows very clearly that the army will not tolerate such acts. We will prosecute any case where this has been done."

Two other British civilians - James Miller, a cameraman, and Iain Hook, an aid worker - have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers during the four-year Palestinian intifada. No one has been charged in those cases.

Tom Hurndall, an activist in the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM), died in a London hospital nine months after being shot, without regaining consciousness.

The court found Taysir shot him with a sniper rifle using a telescopic sight in clear knowledge of the consequences and in breach of the rules of engagement. It rejected defence claims that "malpractice" by British doctors caused his death.

The judges mentioned a confession in which Taysir said he wanted to teach Mr Hurndall a lesson for entering a forbidden area. He admitted aiming four inches to the left of his head to frighten him, but said he did not intend to hit him. Colonel Nir Aviram, the presiding judge, said: "From that moment, Sgt Taysir began a broad campaign of lies and falsehoods to throw off the expected investigation and to remove criminal guilt from himself." Taysir, a Bedouin who volunteered for the army, accused his commanders of racism. He sat silently in a black T-shirt and jeans through the hour-long reading of the judgment. His lawyer, Ilan Bombach, said afterwards: "We believe there are serious grounds for appeal."

Taleb al Sana, a Bedouin member of the Israeli parliament, accused the army of choosing an easy target to divert attention from its own wrongdoings. "It is easier to throw garbage on someone who is different."

The interior ministry prevented Tom Hurndall's brother, William, from entering Israel for the hearing and held him in detention. He arrived with his father, but rejected conditions that he stay no more than 24 hours, did not enter the West Bank or Gaza and be accompanied by a representative of the British embassy.

Mark Regev, a foreign ministry spokesman, said the authorities wanted an assurance that William, also an ISM activist, would not become involved in demonstrations. "We had no problem letting family members attend the trial," he said. "But we didn't want any street theatre of the kind the ISM is so good at."

Tom Hurndall's sister, Sophie, 25, said Taysir should have been found guilty of murder. "Many other soldiers are doing the same kind of thing every day and nothing is happening."