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Israeli Court Upholds Some Targeted Killings

Israel's High Court has decided not to issue a complete ban on the targeted killings of Palestinian militants. The three-judge panel rejected a petition by two human rights groups that demanded an end to the controversial policy. It took four years for the court to issue a decision. Robert Berger files this VOA report from Jerusalem.

Israel's Supreme Court ruled that some targeted killings of Palestinian militants are legal under international law. The court said that Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorism, but should avoid targeted killings when there is a high chance of civilian casualties.

The ruling gives partial legitimacy to a practice widely used by the Israeli air force, but which has been condemned by the United Nations, European Union and human rights groups.

The Israeli human rights group B'tselem says 339 Palestinians were killed in targeted operations during the past six years. Of those, 210 were militants and the rest bystanders.

The most widely criticized operation was in 2002, when the air force dropped a one-ton bomb that killed Salah Shehadeh, a leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas, who was wanted for masterminding suicide bombings. A total of 13 Palestinian civilians were killed in the attack, including nine children.

Nevertheless, many Israelis support targeted killings, seeing them as a deterrent to Palestinian terrorism.

Nitzana Darshan-Leitner heads the Sherut HaDin organization, which means "in the service of justice." She praised the Supreme Court for giving a green light to the Israel Defense Forces.

"We believe that the IDF should act freely and openly to eradicate the terrorist organizations and their leaders, and there should be no restraints on its policy," she said.

But Palestinians say Israel's 'assassination' policy, as they call it, amounts to execution without trial. Legislator Hanan Ashrawi says it will lead to more violence.

"When you allow the Israeli army to continue to use violence, unbridled, and to continue to use the same extremist measures that it has been using, then you will be creating, will be generating, responses in kind," he said.

Israel says it is self-defense. The Palestinians say it is state terrorism.