Israeli Raid on Palestinian Camp Turns Deadly

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QALANDIA, West Bank -- Israeli security forces shot and killed three Palestinian men Monday when violent clashes broke out during a raid on a refugee camp that lies between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah, according to witnesses and the Israeli military.

The raid was the deadliest episode in the West Bank in months and came less than a week after a Palestinian man was killed in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank when troops on a similar mission encountered violent protests.

The Israeli military said that its troops were in the Qalandia camp to back up security forces seeking to arrest a resident described by the military as a "terror operative." Hundreds of residents threw rocks, firebombs, iron bars and other items at the security forces, including from rooftops, and soldiers were called in to aid them.

The military later said an investigation indicated that camp residents had also fired at the soldiers and that the forces felt their lives were in danger, a standard that then allows the use of lethal force.

"Large, violent crowds such as this, which significantly outnumber the security forces, leave no choice but to resort to live fire in self-defense," said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military.

The continuing arrests of Palestinians suspected of planning terrorist acts and the deadly confrontations underlined the volatility of the West Bank, even as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have embarked on a new round of talks to try to establish an independent Palestinian state in the areas occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war.

After the funerals of those killed Monday, a group of masked Palestinian gunmen fired into the air in the dusty cemetery of the refugee camp here. More bursts of gunfire punctured the quiet in the sprawling alleys, perhaps putting negotiators on notice that talks alone would not lead to peace.

The gunmen in the cemetery carried the yellow flag of Fatah, the mainstream nationalist movement led by President Mahmoud Abbas. "May God eradicate all the treacherous Zionists," a sheik shouted over a loudspeaker. In a mourning tent set up on the camp's basketball court, the first speaker was Hussein Abu Kweik from Hamas, the Islamic militant group that is Fatah's main rival. Mr. Abu Kweik called for an end to the negotiations and for Mr. Abbas to "side with the resistance."

There were conflicting reports about whether meetings of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators scheduled for Monday were called off by the Palestinians because of the events in Qalandia. An official involved in the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing diplomacy, said negotiators did meet for half an hour in the morning but only discussed the Qalandia episode, and that another meeting scheduled for the evening did not take place.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement, "Israel's use of excessive and indiscriminate violence and live ammunition in densely populated civilian areas represents a blatant violation of international and humanitarian law."

The atmosphere around the negotiations was already strained by repeated Israeli announcements of plans for more settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Nabil Fahmy, the foreign minister of the interim government in Egypt following the takeover by the military there, was in Ramallah on Monday to give his support to Mr. Abbas.

Palestinian officials have also complained that the American envoy to the talks, Martin Indyk, has not been as directly involved as the Palestinians wanted because of Israeli opposition to having Mr. Indyk in the negotiating room.

The three Palestinians killed on Monday were identified as Robeen Zayed, 34; Yunis Jahjouh, 23; and Jihad Aslan, 21.

Witnesses in Qalandia said that two of the dead had been participating in the riot but that Mr. Zayed, a father of four who worked for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which assists Palestinian refugees, was caught between stone throwers and the Israeli military on his way to work. The agency condemned the killing in a statement. At least 15 others were injured, several seriously.

Qalandia, a frequent flash point, is in an area of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control, where the Palestinian Authority police cannot operate.

Amer Khateeb, 27, said undercover Israeli forces had come to arrest his brother Yusef, who was released from an Israeli prison two years ago. Yusef escaped to a neighbor's house, but the forces caught up with him and beat him, his brother said.

According to witnesses, the special forces became trapped by people throwing stones at them from the rooftops and called in army reinforcements. Hundreds of residents then came out of their homes and joined the riot.

"It was a battlefield, a real war," said Ahmad Lafi, 25, a university student who said he left his house when he heard the shooting.

Mr. Lafi described people attacking the soldiers with firebombs, stones, bricks, satellite dishes -- anything they could get their hands on. "If the army meets resistance each time it tries to arrest activists in the West Bank," he said, "then the army won't dare to go on raiding and arresting."

The unrest continued for hours outside the camp Monday afternoon as youths hurled stones at Israeli soldiers and dodged tear gas around the nearby checkpoint in Qalandia that leads to Jerusalem.

The walls of the refugee camp are decorated with graffiti and plastered with posters of residents who have been freed from Israeli prisons or killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers.

At the home of Jihad Aslan, who was a construction worker, women gathered to mourn. Mr. Aslan's mother, Hanan, 48, sat under a framed, sequined montage hanging on the wall bearing the words "Allah is with those who have patience."

"Abu Mazen should protect the youth and stop this chaos, which has no beginning and no end," she said, referring to the Palestinian president by his popular name. She said Jihad had been arrested three times in the past and had spent a total of three years and eight months in Israeli prisons for throwing stones and firebombs.

"I raised my son for 20 years and in one minute I lost him," she said. As for the stone-throwers she said, "Nobody can stop them."

Said Ghazali contributed reporting from Qalandia.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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