9:09am UK, Thursday September 04, 2008

Dominic Waghorn, Middle East correspondent

Israel is denying using excessive force in the West Bank after killing two Palestinians and critically injuring a third in just over a month.

Palestinian protesters

Palestinian protesters in West Bank

The victims, one a 10-year-old boy, were all unarmed Palestinians in the village of Naalin protesting against the construction of Israel's controversial security barrier.

Almost daily protests have frequently turned violent with injuries on both sides. Israelis say dozens of their officers have been injured, some of them seriously, in particular by Palestinians hurling rocks with slingshots.

But there is mounting criticism of the way the Israelis have been responding.

The latest to be hurt was mentally disabled father-of-four Awad Srur who was shot in the head at close range with rubber bullets in his home this week.

Israeli troops had arrested Mr Awad's brother in the family house. They say the injured man tried to take one of their guns and they were operating within their rules of engagement in shooting him.

Palestinians blindfolded and stripped stand in an Israeli military base.

Palestinians blindfolded at Israeli military base

His family insist he was standing on a balcony only shouting at them.

"They shone a light on him," his daughter Zenab told Sky News.

"Then they shot him. I didn't know they had hit him and I went to him. Then I saw the blood. Then I saw a hole here in his eye."

Mr Awad is critically injured in hospital having lost an eye and suffered brain injuries from the rubber bullets that doctors say penetrated his skull.

In July 10-year-old Ahmed Moussa was shot dead after a protest.

At his funeral an 18-year-old was also hit with rubber bullets, also at close range, say Palestinians. He died some days later.

Despite the deaths and injuries, Commander Rafael Ben David, head of the Israeli border police in Naalin, denies accusations his forces are operating out of control.

"I said it before and I'll say it again, as far as we are concerned we are making a lot of progress, our presence here has minimised the amount of confrontations."

Behind him bulldozers continued carving out the path of the security barrier which effectively takes land from the Palestinians living in Naalin.

The barrier is there to stop suicide bombers, say Israelis.

Palestinians say its aim is to steal more land for settlements nearby, already built miles inside the occupied West Bank against international law.

Also in Naalin, a 14-year-old girl filmed an Israeli soldier firing a rubber bullet at point blank range at the feet of a bound and blindfolded Palestinian in July.

The footage attracted international attention to the village.

Days after it was aired, the girl's father Jamal Amira was arrested by Israeli border police and jailed for a month, before being released because of a lack of evidence.

"They put me in jail for two reasons," he told Sky News.

"One because of my daughter's filming, the other is they want to take me away from my land to do what they want with it."