by Ben Lynfield
(IPS) GAZA --
the tank shells bearing thousands of lethal Israeli darts crashed into a tiny Palestinian community, death and destruction fanned out in several directions.
In addition to killing three civilian women on June 9, the darts, or flachettes, which spread out in an arc of dozens of meters, wounded two other people. They deepened the mistrust that is hanging over efforts to reach a durable Middle East cease-fire.
In al-Hadabe, near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim, blood-stained sheets were visible in the shack that housed Nasra Malalha, 65, Samia Malalha, 37, and Hekmat Malalha, 17, the first fatalities since Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat declared the cease-fire 10 days ago.
Around the structure, one-and-a-half inch darts were stuck in a rock, in wooden planks, in a tree, and in a television antenna. A satellite dish had 37 holes in it.
The firing of dart shells highlights the continued risks faced by Palestinian civilians despite declarations by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon late last month of an Israeli cease-fire and official announcements that soldiers are under orders to exercise restraint.
Israeli officials, for their part, believe that darts are not the issue. They continue to denounce Arafat's declaration of a cease-fire 10 days ago as a ploy to fool international opinion. They noted that mortar attacks and shootings are continuing.
While Dore Gold, an adviser to Sharon, expressed regret over the loss of lives here, he also said that Palestinians had started the incident with gunfire at an Israeli position, something residents here vehemently dispute.
Muawiya Hassanein, the physician in charge of emergency services at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, said of the fatalities: "There were more than a dozen nails in each one. They died because of the nail injuries. All three had nails in the head, chest and abdomen." Two other people also suffered wounds caused by nails, he said.
The residents of al-Hadabe, Beduin refugees from what became southern Israel in 1948, raise livestock for a living. The animals too had been hit: flies circulated around a dead camel, about 35 meters from the Malalha home. It had been struck in the neck. A donkey lay on the ground with a wounded stomach, waiting to die. A sheep was still frozen in its death throes.
Darts have been banned by Israel's army commander, Yitzhak Eitan, in the West Bank, because of the threat they pose to civilians. But here in Gaza, which is more remote from journalists and human rights monitors and considered a tougher battle zone, they have been used at least four times since February.
International called last week for an independent investigation into the deaths of the three women. "Lethal force should never be used when lives are not in danger," it said in a statement. "Only if full investigations are made into every killing will human life once again be given a value in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Failure to investigate the killings is reinforcing a culture of impunity in the Israel Defence Forces and a cycle of violence and revenge."
Lior Yavne, spokesperson of B'tselem, Israel's leading rights group, said of the dart shells: "The laws of war do not explicitly prohibit it, but when it is used in a populated area it is the equivalent of indiscriminate fire. This is prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention."
Army officials acknowledged darts were used. Chief-of-staff Gen. Shaul Mofaz has said that the deaths here were possibly the result of "a mistake in which they used the wrong range. It is night, it is dark, you are fired upon and it is possible to make a mistake."
The unabated mistrust and only partially reduced violence do not augur well for the efforts of CIA director George Tenet, who has been visiting the region in a bid to establish a lasting cease-fire. The two sides are far apart on Israel's demand that the Palestinians re-arrest dozens of militants from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad which Israel holds responsible for bombing attacks and who were freed at the start of the uprising eight months ago.
The Palestinian Authority is refusing to make arrests at Israel's behest. Gold says that the arrests are Israel's "litmus test" of Palestinian Authority intentions.
But Palestinian Authority Industry Minister Saadi Krunz believes what happened here puts the onus on Israel. "If the Israelis are killing our people daily, are we supposed to make arrests? What would we say to our people? Will the Israelis arrest the soldiers responsible for killing these women? Do they do anything to stop these killings?"
June 18, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
All Rights Reserved.
Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.