Israeli Supreme Court rejects challenge to open-fire rules

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a legal challenge to the military’s rules on when soldiers can fire their weapons amid weeks of violent protests that have killed dozens of Palestinians on the border with Gaza.

Six human rights groups had asked the court to declare as unlawful any regulations that allow soldiers to open fire at unarmed civilians.

But in its unanimous ruling, the court sided with the Israeli military, which argued that the protests were taking place in the context of a long-running armed conflict with the Islamic militant group Hamas which rules Gaza and that weapons-use regulations are subject to the rules of armed conflict. Such rules provide greater leeway for the use of lethal force than those governing law enforcement practices.

Yesh Din, one of the rights groups that brought the challenge, slammed the court’s decision.

“The judges missed an opportunity to prevent the continuation of the killing and injuries,” the group said on Twitter.

Israeli fire has killed more than 100 Palestinians in weeks of violent protests along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip. Nearly 60 of those were killed May 14, the deadliest protest day that also saw hundreds of Palestinians wounded.

Organizers said the protests were meant in part to break a decade-old Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the Gaza Strip. But Israel, which has faced blistering international criticism over its response, accuses Hamas of using the weekly border protests as cover to stage attacks.

The Israeli army has defended its actions. It points to the violent history of Hamas, says there have been shootings and bombing attacks against its forces, and fears a mass border breach.

On Twitter, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman welcomed the ruling and criticized the rights groups for challenging the military.