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Israel Assassination Retaliation Leads To Dead Civilians

by Ferry Biedermann

Israel Calls Assassination A Form Of Defense
(IPS) GAZA -- Israelis and Palestinians are facing up to long-term consequences of Monday's air strikes on the Gaza strip.

Initial reports of a large death toll among mostly civilian drew protests even among some ministers in the hard-line government. The army defended its actions.

The October 20 strikes were unprecedented, occurring within 12 hours. One attack on a car carrying militants in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the center of the Gaza strip caused many casualties.

The strikes have reignited a debate over 'targeted assassinations' of Palestinian militants whom Israel suspects are planning attacks against its citizens. The attacks came at a sensitive time because some 30 air force pilots signed a letter last month refusing to conduct such missions.

The Gaza strip is a densely packed coastal area where some 1.3 million Palestinians live within an Israeli security fence. In the days before the air strikes, militant groups had lobbed improvised rockets -- so-called Kassam-2 missiles -- at Israeli towns outside the strip.

In the Sajjiyjeh neighborhood in Gaza City, where the first Israeli strike came that morning, a half-finished building belonging to a known Hamas member had attracted the usual crowd of onlookers. Consistent with Israeli army reports later, a van with masked men had turned up at this building. The army claims the men transferred an arms cache to another warehouse.

Later in the day the army hit the van, killing two militants and a passer-by. In follow-up strikes the air force also attacked the first target again, as well as the warehouse the arms were believed to have been taken to. These attacks caused no fatalities.

More problematic is the strike inside the crowded Nuseirat refugee camp, which is really not a camp but a warren of narrow lanes and concrete houses bisected by a main street.

Eyewitnesses said two people inside the car were killed in this attack along with at least five others in the street at the time. Dozens of people were injured.

Just under an hour after the attack, a crowd of angry young Palestinians gathered around the wreck of a silver-grey Peugeot 504 in Nuseirat's main street. They called for revenge.

"Look, from the martyr," said a young boy no more than 12 years old, holding up a piece of what appeared to be charred flesh. The situation got quickly out of hand. The demonstrators turned their anger on outsiders, also journalists, despite nearby Palestinian police.

The next day residents were preparing to bury their dead. Nine-year old Moustafa Tabaza stood with his father outside his home while masked Hamas militants, armed with axes, knives and spray cans, painted slogans on a wall opposite the house praising the 'martyrs.'

The explosion had killed Moustafa's 23-year old brother Abdelhalim. Two brothers and two cousins were wounded. "When I grow up, I will join Hamas to take revenge for my brother," Moustafa said quietly.

A day earlier, he had heard a loud explosion and rushed to the end of an alleyway near the site of the blast. Three of his brothers and some cousins were also near the car that the missile missed but damaged.

The Israeli army released a videotape intended to show that few people were in the street during the attack.

"The car must have been packed with explosives because our missiles do not have such an impact, as you can see from the first explosion," an Israeli army spokeswoman said.

She said civilian deaths were regrettable, but blamed the militants. "We do everything to avoid the loss of innocent life, but when the terrorists hide among the civilian population and carry explosives with them, it becomes their responsibility."

This attack led a minister of the center-right Shinui party in the coalition of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to remark that it was better to let militants go than to target them amidst a civilian population.

"The failure to differentiate between civilians and terrorists turns all the Palestinians into potential suicide bombers," said Yosef Paritzky, the infrastructure minister. He urged the army to compensate innocent victims.

The military intelligence commander, Major-General Aharon Ze'evi, came up with the more hardline view. "It's preferable for Palestinian mothers to cry than Israeli mothers," he said.

The Israeli army appears ready to continue targeting suspects among the civilian population despite the internal debate.

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Albion Monitor October 30, 2003 (

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