JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Unnecessary intervention by Israeli troops in a West Bank protest last month resulted in the deaths of two Palestinian youths, according to an internal investigation by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
And more professional conduct by troops in an incident in the same vicinity on the following day might have avoided at least one further fatal shooting, the IDF report said.
The findings were summarized in an IDF statement on Tuesday in response to a query by Reuters. It is unusual for the army to criticize its troops publicly.
Any Israeli army killing of Palestinian demonstrators in the occupied West Bank risks inflaming tensions and troops are under orders to use non-lethal riot control methods, unless their lives are threatened.
The death of four Palestinians in two incidents in the space of 24 hours heightened tensions as President Barack Obama worked to revive peace talks stalled for the past 15 months.
The IDF insists its rules of engagement are rigorously enforced and any alleged violations are properly investigated.
An investigation by Major-General Avi Mizrahi found that troops in both incidents could have acted differently, avoiding severe consequences and loss of life, the army said.
In the first incident on March 20, two teenagers were shot dead in the village of Iraq Burin as troops moved in to protect Jewish settlers from Palestinians protesting against Israeli settlement policy.
Mizrahi said the situation assessment "should have led to different actions than those taken by the force when it entered the village." He concluded that "this operational incident is considered unnecessary, and its results severe."
On the following day, troops killed two youths after one soldier thought he was under attack by a youth with a bottle.
Mizrahi concluded they "could have operated in a more professional manner and thus have avoided the need to use fire."
The IDF says troops in the first incident used rubber-coated rounds only. But Palestinian doctors said one of the teenagers was shot through the chest, and they provided an X-ray image showing what looked like a bullet in the brain of the other.
Israel's Military Police Investigation Unit is still trying to determine if live rounds were fired and if so who fired them.
Mizrahi's investigation indicated that live ammunition had "apparently" killed the youths, but "the IDF could not verify the autopsy and could therefore not confirm that the rioters were in fact hit by live rounds."
His report later this week chief of staff Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi could result in disciplinary action against the commanders involved and possibly a re-examination of Israeli tactics during Palestinian demonstrations.
(Writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Angus MacSwan)