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Troops Kill Mother, Daughter in Gaza

May 26, 2002

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JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli troops fired tank shells and machine guns Saturday, killing a Palestinian woman and her 13-year-old daughter working on a farm in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian witnesses and doctors said. The army said the two were in a prohibited area near the Israeli border.

Israeli troops in armored personnel carriers rolled into the Palestinian city of Bethlehem at nightfall and withdrew early Sunday, Palestinian witnesses and Israeli military officials said. The army said it arrested a suspected militant, but did not name him.

Also early Sunday, Israeli troops entered the West Bank town of Qalqilya, taking up positions and declaring a curfew. Witnesses reported exchanges of gunfire as the armored personnel carriers entered the town, but there were no injuries. The army said troops were carrying out searches and arrests in order to prevent militants from leaving the town.

On Saturday, the army pulled out of the Tulkarem refugee camp in the West Bank, ending a two-day incursion that uncovered guns and explosives and led to the arrests of about 25 Palestinians suspects, the army said.

But only hours later, the troops went back into the camp and into the town of Tulkarem, Palestinian witnesses said. A Palestinian was killed by Israeli gunfire early Sunday morning, they said. Tulkarem is just inside the West Bank and Palestinian militants have launched many attacks from the town.

In Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem, the troops seized much of the city, imposed a curfew and surrounded the home of Mohammed Shehade, a local leader of Islamic Jihad, which has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide bombings.

The army pulled out of Bethlehem a few hours later, saying it had arrested a wanted militant who turned himself in, a statement said. However, the army did not name the person, and Shehade’s family said he was not arrested.

Israel completed a major military sweep through the West Bank several weeks ago, but the army continues to carry out almost daily raids in pursuit of suspected militants. Most of the incursions last a day or two at most, and in some cases, only hours.

Israeli troops occupied Bethlehem for more than six weeks in April and early May, surrounding Palestinian gunmen who holed up in the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. The standoff ended when 13 gunmen were sent into exile and 26 to Gaza.

In the Gaza shooting, the army said soldiers fired on two ``suspicious figures″ because they were in an area off limits to Palestinians and were moving toward the border fence with Israel, military sources said.

Palestinians have attempted to launch attacks in the area seven times in the past month, the sources said.

Marwan Abu Said, a Palestinian witness and a relative of those shot, said the soldiers fired from three tanks patrolling the border, next to the flat, open field. He said he was not aware of any provocation that prompted the fire.

Kamla Abu Said, 42, was killed, along with her daughter, Amna, 13, according to Dr. Ahmed Rabah at the Deir al-Balah hospital. Abu Said’s 15 year-old niece was lightly injured.

In the northern West Bank, meanwhile, Israeli troops stopped a taxi and arrested a 16-year-old Palestinian boy with an explosives belt strapped to his waist, on an apparent suicide mission, the army said.

The troops set up a ``surprise roadblock,″ and asked the four Palestinians in the taxi to get out and lift their shirts _ a now common practice designed to check for would-be bombers wearing explosives.

When the 16-year-old lifted his shirt to expose the explosives, the army seized all four on the road, near the village of Sanur. The belt was removed from the youth and blown up, the army said.

Saturday’s incident came just three days after another 16-year-old, Issa Bdeir, carried out a suicide bombing that killed two Israelis on Wednesday night just south of Tel Aviv. He was the youngest of the more than 60 bombers who have struck during the 20-month conflict.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office said that the Israeli security forces have ``foiled or disrupted″ more than 30 attacks by Palestinian militants the past month. The army offensive in March and April was intended to prevent such attacks, but after a brief lull, the frequency has increased again.

On another West Bank road, a Palestinian woman in labor said she was held up by soldiers for 30 minutes at a roadblock, where she gave birth to a baby that died a short while later at a hospital in Bethlehem. The Israeli military disputed the woman’s account, saying she was allowed to pass without delay.

Faidea Najajra said she and three relatives left her village of Nahalin, outside of Bethlehem, at 4 a.m. after she went into labor.

Their initial route was blocked by a 10-foot-high earthen barricade placed across the road by the army. The family called a Palestinian ambulance, which came to the other side of the embankment, but medics could not find a way to get Najajra to the other side.

A medic joined Najajra in her car, and while traveling to a crossing point manned by soldiers, she gave birth, she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

``When the soldiers saw me, I was screaming and crying,″ she said. ``But the soldiers just looked at me.″

She was allowed to pass after a half-hour, she said. Her newborn was in critical condition when it reached the hospital, and died shortly afterward, said Dr. Jadallah Najar. The exact cause of the baby’s death was not clear. Najajra was checked and returned home after about two hours.

An army statement said soldiers allowed her to cross immediately when learning of her condition.

The military says its policy allows humanitarian cases to pass roadblocks. However, soldiers also regularly conduct extensive checks of ambulances following incidents in which explosives and other weapons were found inside them.

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