Collective Punishment & Terrorism
Israeli Troops Kill 3 Palestinian Teens
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli troops fired at a group of Palestinians in a southern Gaza Strip refugee camp Saturday, killing three teenagers in the deadliest incident in Gaza since Israel and the Palestinians declared a cease-fire two months ago.
The incident in the Rafah camp, located along the border with Egypt, shattered weeks of calm and added to tensions surrounding plans by Jewish extremists to march on a disputed holy site in Jerusalem.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said he was “shocked” by the shootings, and he claimed that they violated a truce agreement with Israel.
“The president severely condemns the killing, and considers it a violation of the truce that we agreed on” in Egypt on Feb. 8, a statement issued by Abbas’ office said. “We will not accept our children being killed in this way.”
Shortly after the shooting, Palestinians fired five mortar shells toward Jewish settlements in Gaza, causing no injuries or damage, the army said. Islamic Jihad militants claimed responsibility.
Ali Abu Zeid, a 22-year-old Rafah resident, said a group of boys were playing soccer in an open area in the Rafah camp when the ball was kicked toward the border fence. “The kids ran after it, and that’s when we heard gunfire,” he said.
Palestinian hospital officials said the two of the dead youths were 15 years old and the third was 14.
The Israeli army said a group of youths had entered an unauthorized area near the border and ignored warning shots to stop. The shots were fired by forces patrolling the area in an armed vehicle, the army said.
The Rafah refugee camp has been a frequent flashpoint of fighting since violence broke out in late 2000. The Israeli army frequently operates in the area to halt weapons smuggling across the border.
But violence has dropped dramatically since Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Abbas declared a cease-fire Feb. 8. Last month, Palestinian militant groups signed on to the truce at a meeting in Cairo, Egypt.
Since the Feb. 8 declaration, a total of 13 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israel. But Saturday’s shooting was the deadliest single incident. Five Israelis were killed in a Feb. 25 suicide bombing outside a Tel Aviv nightspot.
The chief Palestinian peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said the shooting threatens peace prospects.
“Every time we have such a violation of the cease-fire it really endangers the fragile quiet,” he said. “We urge the Israeli government to refrain from any acts that could endanger the cease-fire.”
Hamas, the largest Palestinian militant group, pledged to avenge the deaths of the three teens.
“The Palestinian people cannot stay silent in the face of this crime and it cannot pass without punishment,” said Saeed Siyam, a Hamas leader in Gaza.
He would not comment on whether Hamas remained committed to the truce.
Mohammed al-Hindi, leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group, called the shooting an “ugly crime” but said the group will continue to honor the cease-fire. He added, however, that Islamic Jihad should meet later to reevaluate the cease-fire.
“The state of calm is as it was,” al-Hindi told a news conference. “The truce that was declared was from two sides, and our right to resist and our right to retaliate against a crime of the occupation is agreed upon.
“The Palestinian factions must now meet and re-evaluate the situation. For now, we are committed to the quiet.”
Tensions were already high amid plans by Jewish extremists to rally Sunday at a disputed holy site in Jerusalem. Palestinian militants have threatened to end the cease-fire if the rally proceeds.
Israel’s public security minister, Gideon Ezra, said Saturday that police will prevent the Jewish protesters from reaching the Al Aqsa Mosque compound.
The compound is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. Sacred to both religions, the hilltop site houses the spot from where Muslim tradition says the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven, and is built atop the ruins of the biblical Jewish temples.
“Under no circumstances, will we allow provocations. They will not enter the Temple Mount,” Ezra said.
Israeli authorities have tightened security around the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in recent days.
Extremist Jewish groups opposed to Sharon’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip this summer have threatened to storm the site in hopes of sparking Muslim riots and disabling the pullout plan.
A September 2000 visit to the site by Sharon, who was opposition leader at the time, sparked riots that led to more than four years of bloodshed.
For a second straight day, thousands of supporters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad took to the streets throughout the West Bank and Gaza on Saturday, warning of harsh retaliation if the demonstration takes place.
“We will not allow our hands to be tied, and if they implement these threats ... the enemy will be held responsible for all the consequences and the resistance will respond and will storm once again,” Hamas spokesman Ismail Haniyye said.
Leaders of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a violent group affiliated with Abbas’ ruling Fatah party, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, also threatened violence Saturday.
The DFLP said in a statement that “targeting Islamic and Christian holy sites is a red line that would blow up the situation once again and put an end to the truce announced lately by the Palestinian groups in Cairo.”
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