JERUSALEM - Israel's army is using attack dogs to stop Palestinians trying to damage the West Bank separation barrier in order to illegally enter Israel through the gaps, the military admitted on Thursday.
An army statement said that in the past few years, a stretch of the barrier in the southern West Bank had been purposely damaged "to permit the passage of terrorists into Israel" in a move which endangers Israeli lives.
"In order to prevent damage to the security fence, the IDF (army) uses a number of different measures, including the canine unit and its trained dogs, while taking appropriate precautionary measures to avoid unnecessary injury," it said.
"The use of dogs actually limits bodily injuries and obviates the use of other measures," the statement said.
But Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said dogs have been used to attack at least three unarmed Palestinians who were attempting to pass through a breach in the barrier in order to find casual work in Israel.
One worker was stopped then released on the spot, B'Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli told AFP, saying it would not have been the case if he was a suspected militant.
"In the two cases that we know of, where the Palestinians were actually arrested, the arrests were not under suspicion of terrorism -- they were because of suspected unlawful entry into Israel," she said.
"The Israeli military knows full well that the vast majority of people who enter are laborers and not terrorists. "If they indeed are terrorists, they should arrest them and question them and bring them to trial rather than set dogs on them, which is completely unacceptable," she added.
B'Tselem has sent a formal letter of complaint to the army, quoting testimony from labourers alleging that in some cases the dogs did not respond to their handlers' orders to stop, forcing the soldiers to use an electric-shock device to calm the animals.
"Any complaint in this matter received by the office of the Military Advocate General will be examined and dealt with appropriately," the army statement said.
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