Child victim raises unarmed tally to three in four days

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , JERUSALEM

Sun, Jul 27, 2003 - Page 7

An Israeli soldier fired a machine gun that killed a 4-year-old Palestinian boy on Friday and wounded two young girls while all three were in a family truck at a military checkpoint on the edge of a West Bank village, the military and Palestinian witnesses said.

The Israeli army called the shooting an accident and expressed regret, while angry residents in the Palestinian village of Bartaa threw stones at the soldiers afterward.

The killing marked the third time in the last four days that the Israeli security forces have fatally shot unarmed Arabs at or near checkpoints.

The shooting occurred as the Kabaha family was returning to their home in Bartaa and their Mitsubishi truck was waiting in line at an Israeli checkpoint at the entrance to the village, in the northern West Bank, said Ali Kabaha, an uncle of the slain boy.

As two soldiers approached the truck on foot, a soldier atop a nearby armored personnel carrier unleashed a burst of machine-gun fire, Palestinian witnesses said.

Mahmoud Kabaha, 4, was hit in the head and killed instantly. A sister and another female relative, both about 8 years old, were wounded, Ali Kabaha said.

The soldiers provided treatment to the two injured girls and took them to an Israeli hospital, the military said.

The other family members in the truck, including the dead boy's grandfather, his mother and several additional siblings, were not hurt.

After the incident, Palestinians counted more than a dozen bullet holes in the vehicle.

"I was so mad at the soldiers," said Ali Kabaha, who arrived at the scene shortly after the shooting. "I was screaming at them that there was no need for this checkpoint, and no need to open fire."

He said Israeli soldiers briefly beat the one who fired the machine gun "because they were so angry at him."

In a statement, the Israeli army said, "There was an accidental burst of gunfire by the force that followed an operational error."

The military "expresses sorrow for the tragic event and has opened a thorough investigation," the statement added.

Israeli checkpoints have been a source of constant friction throughout the 34 months of Mideast fighting. Israel announced on Friday that it was removing three major barriers in the West Bank that have often blocked Palestinian movement.

Palestinian officials say that Israel has more than 170 checkpoints in the West Bank. These obstacles not only prevent Palestinians from entering Israel, they often bar them from going from one Palestinian town to another.

Israel says it needs the security checks to prevent Palestinian attacks.