Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Israelis kill two protesters

NO PEACE An initially peaceful protest by Palestinians against the separation barrier in a village near Jerusalem became violent when troops interfered with the people


Israeli forces killed two Palestinians protesting over the new separation barrier on Thursday as the dispute over the controversial structure intensified.

Initially peaceful protests in Biddu, a village near Jerusalem, became violent as troops cleared people from the fields.

The demonstrations descended into a confrontation between Israelis firing rubber bullets, teargas and, reportedly, live rounds, and Palestinian youths throwing stones and using catapults.

In a separate incident, Palestinian gunmen attacked Israeli forces at the Erez crossing point between Israel and Gaza, killing a soldier. The two gunmen, who were later said to be from al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, were also killed.

Witnesses said the Palestinian demonstrators in Biddu were killed when plainclothes Israeli border police opened fire as the protests became more violent.

"It was a very violent confrontation and six security personnel were injured," said an army spokesman. "To the best of our knowledge, our forces responded only with teargas and rubber bullets. We are investigating the reported fatalities."

The two men killed in Biddu were the first to die in sporadic demonstrations in the past few months against the West Bank barrier -- a project Israel says keeps suicide bombers out of its cities, but which Palestinians have branded as a means of seizing land.

At the behest of the UN general assembly, the International Court of Justice held three days of hearings in The Hague this week into the legality of the barrier, which snakes into Israeli-occupied land that Palestinians want for a sovereign state. The court's non-binding verdict is not expected for some time.

Yesterday Ziad Mansoor, 23, from Biddu, said he witnessed the shooting dead of Zacharia Eid, a father of three from a nearby village. Eid was arrested by Israelis and put in a Jeep, but managed to run away, at which point he was shot, Mansoor said.

He said they were protesting because the separation barrier would ruin the future of the villages.

"We will be cut off from everything we need to have for a normal life.

"What we are seeing now is a new intifada [uprising], which is coming from the people, not the leaders. Like the first intifada, we are not trying to kill anyone -- just trying to show our anger," Mansoor said.

As clashes continued, Palestinians threw stones and the Israelis fired teargas.

Periodically, a cry would go up among Palestinians that someone had been injured and an ambulance would go to the rescue. One paramedic said that at least 11 people had been wounded by live ammunition and 14 by rubber bullets.

Eventually, the Israelis pushed the Palestinians into Biddu and took up positions in houses on the perimeter.

In Ramallah Israeli military vehicles surrounded the compound of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, for the first time in 18 months.

Troops were confronted by stone-throwing youths, and the army said it shot dead a youth who hurled a petrol bomb.

Besides the unrest in Biddu, angry protests flared in the neighboring villages of Beit Surik and Beit Iksa.

Ibrahim Mughar, the head of a school in Beit Surik, said 10 West Bank villages north-west of Jerusalem would be affected by the separation barrier, and would be cut off from much of their farmland.

The villages are not solely reliant on agriculture. They are all close to both Ramallah and Jerusalem and many people work outside the area -- either legally or illegally.

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