Yakir Ben-Melech
Photo reproduction: Michael Kramer

Man shot on Gaza border was mental patient

Director of Erez crossing says death could have been prevented if man 'had just said one word in Hebrew'

Shlomo Saban, director of the Erez crossing, told Ynet that the death of an Israeli man who tried to infiltrate Gaza Monday morning could have been prevented if he had only said a word in Hebrew.


Yakir Ben-Melech, a 34-year old resident of Tel Aviv and father of one, arrived at the crossing and began to climb the security fence. He was shot and killed by security forces.


Ben-Melech's family says he was a patient at the Abarbanel mental health center. "He was a good boy who took one too many ecstasy pills 10 years ago and has never been the same since," his brother said.


"He had been speaking a lot lately about Gilad Shalit's release and wanted to do something about it. A few months ago he went up north and called us to say he was attempting to travel to Lebanon to speak to Nasrallah."


Ben-Melech's sister-in-law, Ilanit, said the incident could have been prevented. "He ran in the direction of Gaza, not the soldiers, so why did they shoot him?" she asked.


His brother, Yehuda, added, "We want to know exactly what went on there, but no official has spoken to us yet or explained it."

Erez crossing (Photo: Tsafrir Abayov)


The director of the Erez crossing told Ynet that the fire had been inevitable. "In light of the man's odd, suspicious, and inexplicable behavior, the guards had no choice but to fire at his lower extremities," Saban said.


Ynet has learned that Ben-Melech was hospitalized in Ashkelon, and immediately after being released took a taxi to the Erez crossing, where he arrived at 1 am, and began to climb the fence.


15 warning shots fired

His behavior was documented on video, and the tape will be considered in a probe of the incident. The tape shows Ben-Melech arriving at the crossing with a sweatshirt hood covering his head and face, which made it harder for the guards to analyze his behavior. Security sources also said he had also yelled something in an unrecognizable language.


"We are located at a sensitive spot, and there are many different warnings," Saban explained. "The possibility of a terror attack from Israel in Gaza is also taken into account, so we treated the incident appropriately."


Saban described the occurrence. "The man ran 200 meters into the crossing and jumped two gates while all the time the guards called on him to stop and identify himself. He didn't stop, not even when he arrived at the final gate that separates Israel from Gaza," he said.


The director added that the guards had fired 10 warning shots, to no avail. An IDF force arrived and fired five additional shots, also without receiving a response.


"At some point he started running towards the guards, which left no choice, and one bullet hit his leg," Saban said. Ben-Melech suffered injury to an artery in his leg, which caused extensive loss of blood and eventually led to his death.


"If he had said just one word in Hebrew, all of this could have ended differently. Even if he had stopped still it would have ended differently," Saban explained, adding that the guards had behaved in a collected manner and according to regulations.


Avi Cohen, Hanan Greenberg and Shmulik Hadad contributed to this report


פרסום ראשון: 12.07.09, 21:04
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