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Human Rights Watch expressed grave concern at Monday's deadly attack by Israeli soldiers on a minibus carrying Palestinian workers to their jobs.

Human Rights Watch called on Israel to conduct an impartial investigation into the shooting and to discipline or bring charges against persons found responsible for the killing.

The incident reportedly occurred at around 6:30 a.m. when the minibus, carrying sixteen Palestinian day laborers from the village of al-Khadr, near Bethlehem, came upon a mound of earth set up as a roadblock by the Israeli army. The driver initially tried to drive around it, but following the soldiers' orders, turned the bus around to return to al-Khadr. One or more of the soldiers then reportedly opened fire on the retreating vehicle from a distance of approximately thirty meters, shattering the rear window and killing Abu Swayyeh. Muhammad Barmil, another worker in the bus, was reportedly seriously injured.

Since the current period of unrest began in late September, Israel has repeatedly rebuffed calls to investigate incidents involving allegedly excessive or indiscriminate use of deadly force against Palestinians.

"This killing appears to have been entirely unprovoked," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "Israel must investigate all cases where deadly force has been used against unarmed civilians, especially in circumstances that are highly questionable at best."

Megally also deplored the killing on Sunday night of thirty-five year old Tsahi Sasson, as he drove along a road near the Israeli settlement of Gilo, and called on the Palestinian Authority to investigate and prosecute those responsible in accordance with internationally accepted fair trial standards.

The organization expressed concern at the continuing Israeli policy of "liquidation" of Palestinians who it claims are responsible for planning or carrying out attacks on Israeli soldiers or settlers. It said Israeli officials have not made public any evidence to substantiate such claims and criticized the lack of a transparent civilian or military review of such decisions. On Tuesday Israeli helicopters fired missiles into a car in the northern Gaza Strip killing Massoud Ayyad, 54, who has been identified as a member of the Palestinian Preventive Security Force, and reportedly injured at least four other persons. The rocket attack was apparently part of Israel's declared policy of "liquidation."

Also on Tuesday the Israeli government argued before the country's High Court of Justice that it should not hear a petition against the policy of assassinations by Dr. Siham Thabet, the widow of a Palestinian health official assassinated on December 31. The government argued today that such killings were legitimate acts of war, but it has not made public any information to substantiate the claim that the targeted individuals were responsible for violent attacks or the claim that Israel had no alternative in order to save lives.

"This amounts to a policy of officially-sanctioned killing without public accountability," Megally said. "Here we have the prime minister effectively acting as prosecutor, judge, and jury in a secret process leading to death sentences that can't be appealed."

According to Israeli press reports, the government has refused to respond to a United States government request for clarification of its assassinations policy. The request was related to the State Department's annual country reports on human rights, now in preparation. The Israeli foreign ministry reportedly responded that this was not a human rights issue. The European Union issued a statement on Tuesday that "Israel's policy in this regard is unacceptable and contrary to the rule of law."

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