Palestinian dead in undercover Israeli hospital raid

Hebron (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Undercover Israeli agents killed a Palestinian in a West Bank hospital while arresting his cousin wanted for a knife attack, in what Amnesty condemned Thursday as an apparent "extrajudicial killing".

The Palestinian health ministry said 21 agents participated in the overnight raid to capture Azzam Shalaldeh, a patient at Al-Ahli hospital in Hebron.

Israeli security forces said they shot a man who tried to attack them, but a relative who said he was there accused the agents of having gunned him down in cold blood.

Palestinian officials and the family identified the victim as Shalaldeh's cousin, 27-year-old Abdallah Azzam Shalaldeh.

Shalaldeh himself, aged around 20, was arrested.

According to the hospital director, Dr Jihad Shawar, the agents were disguised as Palestinian civilians transporting someone a woman about to give birth.

Surveillance video purportedly from the hospital posted online appeared to back his account.

Men in plainclothes, some in Palestinian keffiyeh scarves and others apparently wearing fake beards, enter with someone in a wheelchair.

Eight minutes later, footage showed the agents with guns drawn leaving with someone else in the wheelchair, presumably the suspect.

"They banned the medical team from moving and they took control of the surgery department, went to Shalaldeh's room and banned anyone from entering," Shawar said.

"When they left, the man was found bleeding and (staff) tried to save his life, but he died."

Israel's Shin Bet domestic security agency confirmed the raid, saying the man shot had "attacked" officers in an attempt to prevent them from arresting his cousin.

It said the suspect was behind an October 25 stabbing that seriously wounded an Israeli near the Mezad settlement outside Hebron.

The attacker, who Shin Bet was "from a family of militants" of Islamist movement Hamas, was said to have been shot during the attack but escaped.

Amnesty condemned the killing.

"The fact that Abdullah Shalaldah was shot in the head and upper body suggests this was an extrajudicial execution," the organisation's Middle East director Philip Luther said.

Bilal Shalaldeh, Shalaldeh's brother who said he was in the room at the time of the raid, disputed the Israeli account.

"They arrested my brother and tied me up,” he told AFP.

“My cousin was in the bathroom and when he opened the bathroom door, and without any warning or any words, they shot at him five times."

Cristina Carreno, medical coordinator with Medicins Sans Frontiers, told AFP the raid may have breached the Geneva Conventions.

The organisation provided Shalaldeh with psychosocial care after his arrival in hospital nearly three weeks ago, she confirmed.

Israel must "comply with international humanitarian law and respect the special status granted to medical facilities and the wounded," she said.

Violence since the start of October, including a wave of knife, gun and car-ramming attacks, has killed 78 people on the Palestinian side -- including one Israeli Arab -- and 10 Israelis.

Many of the Palestinians killed were alleged attackers.

- 'Sleeping lion' -

Israel regularly carries out undercover raids, with agents known as "mustarabiin" -- a reference to their disguising themselves as Arabs.

In October, AFP journalists recorded one such operation at a checkpoint outside Ramallah, in which agents who had been throwing stones with a group of Palestinians suddenly drew their guns and opened fire as stones flew at them.

Hebron, the West Bank's largest city, has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, once dubbed a "sleeping lion" by late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat.

The city is home to some 500 Israeli settlers, squeezed among 200,000 Palestinians.

The city also hosts a holy site sacred to both religions -- known to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque

The latest violence was initially focused on Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank, but the epicentre has since shifted to Hebron.

There is now only one route out of Hebron, and soldiers search each car and check the identities of those inside as traffic backs up.

Much of the Old City has become a ghost town, with only residents allowed in.