Tue, Nov 21, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Human shields force Israel to hit cars

ROCKET GAMES The decision by Palestinians to rush en masse to the site of Israeli targets has meant that the air force has returned to targeting the cars of militants

AP , GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP

Palestinians carry a boy injured by an Israeli airstrike into Shifa hospital in Gaza City on Sunday. An Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a car traveling in Gaza City, wounding nine people, including two Hamas militants inside the vehicle, hospital officials said.

PHOTO: AP

Thwarted by a popular protest in its attempts to destroy houses of Palestinian militants from the air, Israel resumed its airstrikes aimed at killing them in their cars, but its campaign to put a stop to Palestinian rocket barrages remained unsuccessful.

A missile fired by an Israeli aircraft blasted a car in Gaza City on Sunday, killing an elderly man nearby and wounding eight, including three children. The Israeli military said the vehicle was carrying senior members of the Hamas rocket launching operation.

Vexed by the daily rocket barrages targeting the Israeli town of Sderot and nearby villages just outside the Gaza fence, the Israeli military has tried large incursions -- a sweep through the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun this month killed 50 militants and at least seven civilians -- as well as airstrikes aimed at vehicles and houses of militants.

Nine rockets fell in the Sderot area on Sunday, seriously injuring a resident, and five more hit early yesterday morning, causing no injuries. A woman was killed by a rocket last week.

Israel had scaled back so-called "targeted killings" in recent weeks, resuming them after the rocket killed the 57-year-old woman.

On Sunday evening, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and demanded that he invoke his authority and put an end to the rockets, the Defense Ministry said. Peretz told Abbas that Israel would not tolerate continued barrages.

Abbas told Peretz to keep the peace and stop Israel's military escalation, according to the Palestinian news agency WAFA.

In northern Gaza, Palestinians reversed Israeli warnings to leave buildings about to be attacked -- a way of reducing casualties -- streaming to the houses by the hundreds to stop the airstrikes.

The standoff over the homes of the militants began late on Saturday when Mohammed Baroud, a local leader of a violent group, the Popular Resistance Committees, was informed by the army that his house would be hit. The three-story building is home to 17 people from Baroud's clan. Another militant, from Hamas, also received a warning.

Instead of leaving, the two decided to stay in their homes and called in reinforcements. They were quickly joined by crowds of supporters, including dozens of armed men, who gathered on balconies, rooftops and in the streets outside. Local mosques and Palestinian TV and radio stations also mobilized supporters.

Baroud, involved in rocket attacks on Israel, said he and his fellow militants had planned the response a few days earlier, after another house was destroyed in a missile strike.

By Sunday afternoon, about two dozen women were milling around on Baroud's roof, shielded from the sun by a green tarp.

On the floor below them, about a dozen men were resting on mattresses.

Baroud's mother, Umm Wael, said shifts had been organized in preparation for a long standoff.

"Where should we go?" she said. "We will stay here or die in the house. Let them bring it down on our heads."

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas stopped by to show his support.

"We are so proud of this national stand. It's the first step toward protecting our homes, the homes of our children," he said.

The Israeli army said it called off the nighttime airstrikes because of the large crowds. It condemned what it said was a cynical exploitation "by the terrorists of uninvolved people as human shields."

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