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Doctors in West Bank village blame three deaths on Israeli curfew

April 15, 1997

ZURIF, West Bank (AP) _ Doctors and residents in this Palestinian village say three villagers died after soldiers enforcing a strict Israeli army curfew barred critically ill patients from reaching hospitals.

The dead include a stillborn infant, an 80-year-old woman who inhaled tear gas fired by troops during clashes, and a 64-year-old man with breathing difficulties.

The army said soldiers at roadblocks ringing this village of 15,000 residents have orders to let medical emergencies pass, and denied there was a link between the army restrictions and the three deaths.

Zurif has been under curfew since March 21 when a Zurif resident and member in the Muslim militant group Hamas detonated a bomb in a Tel Aviv cafe, killing himself and three Israeli women. The Shin Bet security service later uncovered a Hamas cell in Zurif that had killed 11 Israelis.

In Zurif, some residents warned Monday that Israel’s tough retaliation would win Hamas more supporters. ``We will all be Hamas if this situation continues,″ said laborer Razi Salak.

But others blamed Hamas for their ordeal. ``I am against killing civilians. I want to earn a living,″ said Sharif Arar, a father of 12 who lost his construction job in Israel two years ago due to prolonged security closures.

There have been frequent clashes between Israeli troops and stone-throwers when the curfew is briefly lifted to allow residents to buy food. Today, several dozen youths stoned soldiers who fired rubber-coated steel pellets. Two Palestinians were injured, said the village doctor, Ibrahim Hor.

The three deaths have embittered the villagers.

Mohammed Kadi, 61, said his 80-year-old mother collapsed Friday after a tear gas canister, fired by Israeli troops trying to disperse rioters, landed near her porch where she was sitting.

Kadi said he tried to take his mother to a hospital but was turned away at an Israeli army checkpoint, one of several ringing the village. Kadi tried a back road, but his mother died on the way.

In another case, Afrikia Abu Reis, nine months pregnant, called a Hebron maternity clinic because she couldn’t feel her fetus moving. Doctors told her to come in immediately, but Abu Reis said soldiers at the checkpoint would not let her pass.

She called again three days later and an ambulance took her from the village using back roads. Dr. Abdel Raouf Shabaneh said the fetus had died in the womb and said if she had come in earlier ``we could have saved the baby.″

In the other case, Khaled Arar, 64, collapsed Monday with breathing difficulties.

The village doctor, Hor, put him in a car and took him to the Israeli army checkpoint. ``We argued for 15 minutes with the soldiers. When the patient continued vomiting, our driver just broke through the roadblock,″ Hor said. Arar died on the way to the hospital.

Israeli government spokesman Moshe Fogel said the army investigated the Palestinian claims.

``In this case, the initial inquiry showed no such improper behavior was involved,″ he said. ``I don’t think we can be blamed for every death in the village.″

Meanwhile in Hebron, Jewish settlers and their Palestinian neighbors pelted each other with stones and empty bottles today as efforts to rescue the Mideast peace process gathered momentum. Two Palestinians were hurt and Israeli police arrested four settlers.

Daily stone-throwing clashes in the West Bank city were triggered by Israel’s decision last month to start construction of a Jewish neighborhood in the Israeli-annexed part of Jerusalem where Palestinians hope to establish a future capital.

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