Wed, Nov 22, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Rocket targets Israeli town during UN official's visit

COINCIDENCE?The armed wing of Hamas said it did not know the high commissioner of human rights would be visiting Sderot when they fired a 'Qassam'


Palestinian militants in Gaza fired rockets into an Israeli town yesterday during a visit by the UN high commissioner for human rights, critically wounding one person, witnesses and ambulance workers said.

Commissioner Louise Arbour, on a tour of the Palestinian territories and Israel, was unhurt in the attack in Sderot, where each salvo increases right-wing pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for more powerful military operations in Gaza.

"They [the rockets] landed a few hundred yards away from where we were," said Christopher Gunness, a UN spokesman who accompanied Arbour on the visit to town, which is often targeted by militants in Gaza.

"She was in a car but the delegation had parked very briefly when we heard very loud explosions. There were two plumes of smoke," he said.

Izz el-Deen al-Qassam, the armed wing of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, said it launched the makeshift rockets at Sderot and had not known Arbour would be there.

"I want to express my sympathy to the family of the person who was wounded, to say how much I share their sense of hopelessness and vulnerability and frustration at being so exposed," said Arbour, who visited the impact site.

Arbour, a Canadian, arrived in Sderot from the Gaza Strip, where she called on political, military and militia leaders to ensure "the well-being of civilians" and break a cycle of violence.

Hours before the Sderot attack, Israeli troops and tanks launched a deep raid in the Gaza Strip, around the sprawling refugee camp of Jabaliya and Beit Lahiya, a northern Gaza town and a launching ground for rockets.

A gunman was killed during clashes and a 70-year woman also died, witnesses and hospital officials said.

Saadiyeh Haraz, 70, was killed by Israeli tank fire while inside her house and another four civilians were wounded in the same neighborhood, Palestinian medical and security sources said.

During the incursion, hundreds of Palestinians gathered around two homes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants after the Israeli military warned that the buildings would be destroyed in air raids, a security source said.

"They formed a human chain to prevent the two houses from being destroyed," the source said.

The Israeli incursion left at least four Palestinians wounded, security and medical sources said.

Gunness said Arbour had made the point "very, very forcibly" in a conversation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he should exercise as much of his authority as possible to try to put an end to the rocket strikes.

"The position of the High Commissioner is that Qassam rockets are illegal under international law. The reason is that they are not accurate and [those firing them] cannot make a distinction between combatants and non-combatants," Gunness said.

Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Izz el-Deen al-Qassam, said: "There should be no sympathy for the enemy, which shows no sympathy for our women and children."

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