Israeli Tank Shells Gaza Home, Kills Five
Thu December 5, 2002 09:29 PM ET
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - An Israeli tank shell hit a Gaza Strip home during a clash with Palestinian gunmen in the Bureij refugee camp early on Friday, killing at least five people, Palestinian witnesses and medics said.
Military sources confirmed activity in the area but could not elaborate.
Palestinian witnesses said the Israeli troops, backed by tanks and helicopters entered the refugee camp in the center of Gaza Strip to demolish the home of an Islamic militant Israel blames for a suicide attack on a navy boat last week.
The home of the militant, who belongs to the Islamic Jihad group which has claimed responsibility for dozens of bombings against Israel, was demolished, the Palestinian witnesses said.
A second home was hit as Israeli tanks returned fire at Palestinian gunmen shooting at the forces as they tried to thrust further into Bureij, the witnesses added.
A doctor at the local hospital confirmed that five dead bodies and many wounded had been brought in, and added that several of the injured and dead were from the same family.
Israel regularly sends troops into the Gaza Strip to seek out Palestinian militants it blames for suicide attacks that have killed scores of Israelis since the Palestinian uprising for independence began in September 2000 when peace talks failed.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Thursday that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network was active in the Gaza Strip.
Dec 6th, 2002, 08:16 AM
10 Palestinians killed, 10 wounded in IDF raid in Gaza Strip
By News Agencies
At least 10 Palestinians were killed and another ten were wounded during an IDF incursion in the Gaza Strip refugee camp of al Bureij overnight Friday. Palestinian witnesses and medics said that troops, backed by 25 tanks and several helicopters thrust into the camp, and IDF sources confirmed that a gun battle erupted between Palestinian militants and soldiers in the Bureij area but could not elaborate.
Witnesses said that at least three people were killed when a helicopter fired a missile into a street. Medics stated that a tank shell, which narrowly missed a Palestinian home, sent shrapnel flying and wounded five people. Israel Radio later reported Palestinian claims that a 33-year-old woman died of wounds sustained in the shell attack.
A second home, belonging to Iaman Shushniya, local leader for the Popular Resistance Committee, who is responsible for several terror attacks against Israelis, was blown up by IDF troops, witnesses said.
A doctor at the local hospital said two pairs of brothers were among the Palestinians killed in the fighting. He said all of the dead and wounded suffered from gunshot or shrapnel wounds.
"It was as if the doors of hell were opened in our camp by the helicopters and the tanks. They have made this a bloody Eid," said 20-year-old resident Mohammed Al-Maqadama, referring to the Eid el-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
A Palestinian gunman said that all the casualties in the camp were civilians.
The IDF's Gaza division commander, Brigadier General Yisrael Ziv, said that most of the casualties in the operation were armed terror activists. An IDF investigation on the incident indicated that five of the casualties were members of Hamas who were targeted by helicopter fire.
Palestinian fighters were spurred on by calls through mosque loudspeakers urging people to come out and fight the troops.
Hassan Safi, 49, said he was 300 yards away in his home when the tank shell hit. "I rushed with my sons to the place, which was all destroyed. I myself took out two people. The helicopter was firing with machine guns at us, making it difficult to move," Safi said.
During the incursion, witnesses said troops also surrounded the home of Jamal Ismail, a suicide bomber who blew himself up along with another man in an explosive-packed boat off the Gaza coast last month, wounding four Israeli soldiers in a nearby navy patrol.
Dec 6th, 2002, 01:44 PM
Two Palestinian homes were targeted in the raid
Mourners called for revenge
Friday, 6 December, 2002, 13:14 GMT
Israel accused over Gaza killings
Two Palestinian homes were targeted in the raid
A United Nations official says eight of the 10 Palestinians killed during an Israeli raid on a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on Friday morning were unarmed civilians.
It was as if the doors of hell were opened in our camp by the helicopters and the tanks
Witness Mohammed Al-Maqadama
Christer Nordahl, of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, said that two of the eight were UN employees working at a nearby school.
But a senior UN spokesman told the BBC that UNRWA was conducting an investigation into the deaths and had not yet reached any conclusions.
Israel has strongly denied any civilian casualties, saying that at least five of the dead were members of the militant Hamas group.
Palestinian witnesses said Israeli troops entered al-Bureij camp in about 40 tanks and other armoured vehicles, triggering heavy exchanges of fire with Palestinian gunmen.
Mourners called for revenge
Local hospital officials said another 10 people - including a family of five - were wounded before the Israeli troops pulled out.
The Israeli Defence Force said its troops - who were backed up by helicopter gunships - came under intense fire from close quarters during the operation against "terrorist targets and infrastructure" in the area.
The incursion came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that militants from Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network were active in Gaza - a claim derided by Palestinians.
'Continuation of massacres'
Mourners, some of whom were wearing masks, followed the bodies of those killed through the narrow streets of the camp chanting "revenge, revenge".
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat described the incursion as "Israeli terrorism".
"It is a new massacre," he said. "What happened is a continuation of the massacres against the Palestinian people."
"This is Israeli terrorism against our children, our women and our holy shrines from Rafah [in southern Gaza] to Jenin [in the West Bank]. Isn't what they are doing daily terrorism?"
Two Palestinian homes were targeted in the raid, one belonging to a man on an Israeli wanted list, the other a house where a known suicide bomber had lived.
But Mr Nordahl said one of the two UN employees who was killed, a 31-year-old school caretaker, had been standing in a courtyard of a house with six other people watching the events. All seven were killed.
The other was a 31-year-old female schoolteacher who is said to have died later in hospital of shrapnel injuries.
The house of Ayman Sheshnya, an activist from Mr Arafat's movement Fatah who is wanted by Israel, was destroyed.
The BBC's Barbara Plett, who visited the site of the house, says it has been reduced to a heap of cinder blocks and broken cement.
Witnesses said troops also surrounded the home of Jamal Ismail, a suicide bomber who blew himself up, along with another man, in a boat packed with explosives off the Gaza coast last month, wounding four Israeli soldiers in a nearby navy vessel.
'Family home hit'
The camp's Mayor, Kamal Baghdadi, told the Associated Press news agency that the building hit was the home of a family called Mansour.
Mr Baghdadi and an official from a nearby hospital, Ahmed Rabah, said they believed four of the dead were from the Mansour family.
Ariel Sharon said al-Qaeda members had entered Gaza recently
Twenty-year-old Mohammed Al-Maqadama, who witnessed the battle, said: "It was as if the doors of hell were opened in our camp by the helicopters and the tanks."
Israel regularly sends troops into the Gaza Strip to seek out Palestinian militants it blames for suicide attacks that have killed scores of Israelis since the Palestinian uprising began.
Recently, it has also destroyed the homes of suspected militants to prevent attacks, or in retaliation for them.
10 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire in Gaza Strip; PA wants international protection
Israeli forces have killed 10 Palestinians during an incursion into the Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian hospital source said.
The U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said two of its staff members were among the dead: Osama Hassan Tahrawi, 31, who was killed along with two of his brothers by a missile, was a school attendant; and the woman who died from shrapnel injuries, Ahlam Riziq Kandil, 31, was an elementary school teacher.
The Palestinians died when around 40 Israeli tanks entered the camp firing shells and spraying bullets from machine guns, before withdrawing at around 0300 GMT. According to AFP, exchanges of fire broke out between soldiers and Palestinians, while Israeli troops occupied the camp.
Israeli public radio reported four soldiers were shot and wounded as loudspeakers in mosques urged inhabitants of the camp to resist. Electricity was cut off in Bureij, the radio added.
Ahmad Rabah, director of the hospital in nearby Deir el Ballah camp, said four of the victims whom he named as members of the Mansur family were killed when a tank shell hit their home.
Three Palestinians who had left their homes during the shooting were killed by a missile fired by an Israeli helicopter gunship, witnesses said. At least 20 other Palestinians were wounded during the Israeli incursion, three of them seriously, Rabah added.
The Israelis destroyed the home in the Bureij camp of Ayman Sheshnya, an activist of the People's Defence Committees of Fatah, witnesses said. Troops also questioned people in the home of Islamic Jihad activist Jamal Ismail and damaged the house, along with a dozen others, the witnesses said. Ismail was a suicide bomber who blew himself up along with another man in an explosive-packed boat off the Gaza coast last month, wounding four Israeli soldiers in a nearby navy patrol.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said he was outraged by Friday morning's Israeli operation. "Every day there is a new massacre," Arafat told reporters outside of his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "Every day there is destruction. Every day there is more damage. Every day there are more arrests and every day there are more assassinations."
An aide to Arafat, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said the Palestinians would call on the United Nations Security Council to hold a special session on the violence and to consider sending international observers to the region. (Albawaba.com)
Dec 6th, 2002, 05:27 PM
UN demands IDF accountability
By Orly Halpern
"Are we being treated by the IDF with the special treatment we are accorded as the UN everywhere else in the world?" asked Paul McCann, Chief of the Public Information Office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), this week.
After several serious incidents recently - the killing of British UN employee Iain Hook, by an IDF sniper in Jenin (November 22), a UN lawyer held at IDF gunpoint in Bethlehem (November 22) and the IDF bombing of a UN food warehouse in the Gaza Strip (November 29) - UN personnel working in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are reaching the conclusion that the answer is `no.'
"[Hook's death] proves there is not the immunity the UN expects and gets in other parts of the world," says McCann.
Hook's death in particular set off a wave of fear and anger among UN employees. Earlier this week, in an unprecedented move, 64 UN employees working in Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank made a public statement when they issued an independent petition calling on Israel to stop what they said was the harassment, beating and killing of United Nations staff.
"It started as a reaction to Iain's death," said Roger Hearn, an Australian signatory. "I'd like to think that if I were shot outside my office door, people would make a fuss," said Hearne.
"Anything can happen, and anyone can fire, and the whole army may not be responsible, but it is up to the army to take action and bring this person to justice. That's what we feel. It's a matter of accountability," said Philippe Draget, another signator of the petition.
"I think the point is that this is not an isolated act. Two other UN staff were killed."
The IDF says that all complaints lodged by UN personnel are investigated.
Israel is a co-signatory of the Convention on Immunities and Privileges for the UN. "In its spirit, the convention allows the UN to act as a neutral body in conflicts," explains McCann, "which means that UN staff is not to be harassed and endangered.
"Two of our Palestinian staff have been killed by the IDF, one while riding in a UN ambulance [Kamal Hamdan, 40 Tul Karm]. The other went missing and we discovered after reading about it in Ha'aretz that he died in IDF custody [Husni Amer, from Jenin, was arrested and died on April 7th; the IDF claims he was a terrorist and says it has `yet to clarify' the cause of his death].
"Right now there are 23 Palestinian staff being detained, 20 of them without charges. We have repeatedly requested a reason for their detention as well as access to them and we have been refused."
UN employees expressed shock that an Israeli soldier could kill a UN staffer. "Only the most lawless societies allow gunmen in uniform the impunity to kill aid workers without fear of punishment," the petition says. "We are confident Israel does not wish to see its troops painted in the same colors as the militiamen who have stalked some of the world's other conflicts."
"You're talking about a man inside a UN compound - clearly marked - trying to evacuate his staff," said McCann. "It makes you angry that someone's life is lost like that. It's quite an exceptional case. If something like this happens, it's by a ragtag group of rebels - not a state army. That's why we would expect some accountability."
The Israeli army claims Palestinian militants were shooting from inside the compound.
"From all our eyewitness accounts by our colleagues that is wrong. We're saying this statement lacks credibility and it has all the makings of propaganda to tarnish the reputation of the UN," states Hearn.
UN employees who signed the petition believe that if the people responsible for Hook's death are not put on trial, their lives are in danger.
"Basically it's a demand for safety. If people aren't held accountable, then more people may be killed. It's common sense. It has already happened three times this year."
UNRWA employs the highest number of Palestinians than any other UN agency and, by nature of its work, has felt the brunt of the problems working in the West Bank and Gaza.
Its purpose is to provide the basic necessities, food, social and medical care, and education for over 1.5 million refugees living in the camps.
Over 11,000 Palestinians are UNRWA staff in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The agency says many have undergone harassment, beatings and detention at the hands of the IDF.
"Moreover," says McCann, "many of the Palestinian staff live in the West Bank and can't get permits to enter Jerusalem to go to work since the Intifada started. Now, everyone is doing the jobs of three."
"We're here to save lives. We're not interested in the politics and we don't want to be victims of this conflict," said Kirsten Zaat, another signatory.
Access is another of UNWRA's biggest problems, says McCann: "In other countries, UN convoys pass checkpoints without being stopped and checked. Here we are subject to certain rigorous procedures, which add costs or make it impossible. We supply water, medicines, building equipment for demolished homes. The UN is supposed to be immune from these transport restrictions and yet in this environment it isn't: all our vehicles are checked when passing to Gaza and Jordan."
McCann gives an example: "We had medicine in a warehouse in Jerusalem destined for Gaza. Because of the requirements of the IDF to unload every box, load to a different vehicle and check every box it would have cost a fortune. We ended up distributing it in the West Bank." McCann concludes: "There is a systematic disregard for UN staff. Internationals come here to alleviate suffering and hardships and we kind of expect to go home alive at the end of the day."
The IDF spokesman said the issue of the lawyer detained in Bethlehem was "not known, but is being checked."
On the bombing of the warehouse in Gaza the IDF said its forces were operating in the area and destroyed the homes of three terrorists.
The UN food warehouse was later found to be damaged and the circumstances are being looked into.