Friday, October 18, 2002

Palestinians and Israelis Clash in Gaza; at Least 6 Die
The latest bloodshed came days after the Bush administration expressed deep concern over a significant rise in Palestinian civilian casualties during Israeli military operations. Last week, 17 Palestinians were killed during an Israeli raid on the town of Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip.

After today's shelling, witnesses said, dismembered bodies were pulled from the rubble of refugee dwellings and body parts littered the alleys. The dead included a 4-year-old girl, a 15-year-old boy, two women and two men, said Dr. Ali Musa, the director of Rafah Hospital. He said that half of the wounded were seriously hurt.

The Israeli Army said that its tanks had returned fire after an antitank rocket fired by gunmen in the camp hit an armored bulldozer that was building protective earthwork around an Israeli Army position. No Israeli casualties were reported.

Accounts by both the army and local witnesses described fighting throughout the day between the gunmen and Israeli tanks protecting bulldozers working near the Termit outpost facing the Rafah refugee camp on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Gunmen opened fire and hurled grenades before firing antitank rockets, the army said.

In reply, tanks fired cannon shells at several houses, witnesses said. A resident who identified himself as Bassam, said that there had been "random shelling in the whole area," killing one man at the entrance of his home and two women on the street.

Abdullah Abu Jazar, whose wife Fatima, 70, was killed, said that he was sitting with her in their house when a shell hit. "All of a sudden, fire entered through the wall," he told Reuters. "The doors of hell opened up."

Wailing ambulances careened through the alleys of the camp as medical crews braved gunfire to reach the wounded. Rafah Hospital was swamped with casualties and relatives of the injured.

The United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees said that heavy machine gun fire had hit one of its schools, and pupils had to be moved to a basement for safety. The agency said that another of its schools was struck by a tank shell, and that two Palestinian Authority schools were also hit. No one was hurt because the students had already gone home.

Peter Hansen, the agency's comissioner-general, said he was dismayed by the loss of life and property damage. "This is another case of disproportionate force being used against civilian targets, including schools full of children," he said.