Mideast talks stall after Israeli attack

Palestinians outraged after shelling that killed four Bedouin farmers

August 30, 2002|By COX NEWS SERVICE

JERUSALEM - Security talks were delayed again yesterday amid Palestinian outrage over an Israeli army shelling the night before that killed four Palestinians as they rested near a fig tree in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli-Palestinian talks - stalled this week after renewed violence - were to cover the next phase of a trial plan in which Israeli troops pull out of cities they captured during the past two months.

In return, Palestinian security forces are supposed to prevent the areas from being used as bases for attacks on Israeli civilians or soldiers. Israel has pulled out of the West Bank city of Bethlehem and was schedule to withdraw from parts of the Gaza Strip.

Army officials expressed regret and promised an investigation of the shelling late Wednesday that killed Rewaida Hajeen, 50, her sons Ashraf, 23, and Nehad, 17, and a cousin, Mohammed Hajeen, 20.

The family members, Palestinian Bedouin farmers, were sleeping in shacks near the vineyards and fig trees they worked by day. Army officials said a tank crew fired when it mistakenly thought it saw figures moving toward a Jewish settlement. Palestinians said the explanation was not plausible based on the family's location. Five other family members were injured.

Militant groups threatened revenge against Israel. Meanwhile, Israeli troops still hold six West Bank Palestinian cities and parts of the Gaza Strip.

Yesterday, Israeli troops also fatally shot a 12-year-old Palestinian boy who was among children throwing rocks at armored vehicles in the Gaza city of Rafah.

Palestinians and human rights activists say such deaths are often obscured by attention to suicide bombings against Israelis. They say there is a consistent rhythm of individual Palestinians killed as a result of Israel's forward positions in their cities, farms and, sometimes, houses. Among more than 40 Palestinians killed this month, at least 14, and possibly more, appear to be noncombatants killed in what local and international media have sometimes called a relatively calm period.

The deaths often occur late at night in remote areas, and accounts are sometimes murky.

Israeli Army officials defend their practices. They say the army entered the densely populated Palestinian areas two months ago as a last resort to attempt to stem a series of deadly attacks on Israelis.

Fifteen Israelis have been killed this month. A Palestinian suicide bomber killed nine people, including three soldiers, on a bus Aug. 4. Five Israeli civilians were killed in shooting attacks, and a soldier was killed in Gaza.

Given the "potential for collateral" deaths, army Capt. Jacob Dallal said, Israel has shown great care. "Considering the situation, which is very, very, difficult, we have a very good record," Dallal said. "It's sad, but we have no choice at this point."

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