UN Says Tear Gas Has Killed 11 Arabs, Caused Miscarriages
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Tear gas fired by soldiers into enclosed spaces has killed 11 Arabs in the occupied territories, including a 7-day-old infant, and caused dozens of miscarriages, a U.N. official said Wednesday.
Col. Ranaan Gissin, a military spokesman, said the statement was based on ″unfounded rumors″ and the army could not check it because no details of the casualties were provided.
Also Wednesday, a 12-year-old boy was killed when he and other youngsters in Tulkarem on the West Bank tried to dismantle an army roadblock made of oil drums and a drum struck him in the head, the army said.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin discussed political issues Wednesday night with four prominent Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, his third such meeting in a week, a defense official said.
Authorities would not give the names of Palestinians who participated, saying their lives might be endangered. Several prominent Gaza Arabs said they were not invited, including former Mayor Rashad Shawwa of Gaza City and lawyer Faiz Abu Rahme.
Gissin said ″medical tests show tear gas can only cause temporary disablement, never death,″ and the miscarriages resulted from increased blood pressure after women took part in violent protests, not from tear gas.
Burl Alison, a vice president of Transtechnology Corp. of Sherman Oaks, Calif., which supplied tear gas to Israel, has said the gas is safe when used properly but can cause death if high doses are fired into enclosed areas.
Transtechnology’s gas canisters carry a warning not to use it in enclosed spaces. It stopped selling to Israel last month, citing concern about improper use.
U.N. figures say hospitals have treated 1,285 Palestinians for breathing problems since a rebellion against Israeli occupation began Dec. 8 among the 1.5 million Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said the report about tear gas was ″a matter of concern to us. We have repeatedly urged the government of Israel to use non-lethal means to control violent demonstratons.″
Before the latest death, the army said 207 Palestinians had been killed in the six months of violence. An Israeli soldier and a Jewish settler also have been slain.
Bill Lee, spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which cares for Palestinian refugees, said tear gas had killed 11 Arabs in the territories. He said most casualties from tear gas occurred when soldiers fired it into rooms of clinics, homes and schools while dispersing protesters.
″The gas is not normally lethal when used according to prescribed directions, but it can be when fired into closed spaces,″ he said in an interview.
In other developments, 22 Palestinian employees of the West Bank military administration’s auto-licensing department resigned Wednesday. Underground leaders of the uprising demanded they quit to protest a requirement that Arabs pay their taxes before they can obtain driving or building permits.
Police determined that an army private broke regulations by taking two teen-age members of a paramilitary training group into a detention center near Nablus last month, where one youth clubbed an Arab prisoner, the army reported. It said the soldier would be reprimanded.
According to the daily Yediot Ahronot, police also will charge Rabbi Moshe Levinger of Hebron, a leader of Jewish settlers, with attacking an Arab family.
An Israeli reserve soldier filed a complaint against Levinger accusing hin of breaking into the home of Ishak Rahman, grabbing Rahman’s daughter by the throat and beating his wife on the back, the paper said.
Levinger told the paper the girl shouted insults at the rabbi’s 13-year-old daughter in the street.
According to Lee, doctors at U.N. clinics said the 11 tear gas fatalities were recorded through April. He said most were infants, one only 7 days old, or people over 65.
″The people on this list are those doctors believe wouldn’t have died at that particular time if it weren’t for tear gas being fired,″ he said. ″That’s my bottom-line criteria.″
Among the victims was a 35-year-old woman in the Gaza Strip who died along with her unborn child after going into labor prematurely as a result of inhaling tear gas, the U.N. representative said.
He said the gas apparently causes muscle spasms that can cause miscarriage, and dozens of such cases have been reported.
The army spokesman, Gissin, countered: ″According to doctors, not just Israeli doctors, when pregnant women participate in riots their blood pressure goes up and they have miscarriages caused by overexcitement, not by tear gas.″ Lee said most victims of miscarriages weren’t involved in protests, but were ″at home when tear gas was fired into their homes, into a closed confined space.″
Gissin said soldiers fire the gas into closed quarters only in rare accidents.
″There is no intentional policy to fire into closed quarters,″ he said. ″It may happen that a gas canister can hit a window and fall into a house, but one canister cannot cause such results.″
He said the State Department issued its statement ″without checking the facts″ and had been ″manipulated″ by the media.