Israeli troops shot and killed a 17-year-old Palestinian high school student and wounded at least 16 other Arab demonstrators in the occupied Gaza Strip on Wednesday in five hours of some of the most serious violence here in recent years, according to army and Palestinian sources.
Arab sources said a second youth was killed in the clashes and that a total of 27 were wounded when the army reportedly opened fire in at least four locations. But an army spokesman insisted that “as far as I know,” only the 17-year-old was killed. The spokesman cautioned, however, that “it is very difficult to find out” the exact situation because the wounded are in an Arab hospital.
He said all the casualties occurred Wednesday morning when an army patrol opened fire to disperse dozens of youths throwing rocks and flaming gasoline-filled bottles. The youths had surrounded the patrol’s vehicle in the Jabaliya refugee camp near the city of Gaza.
The dead student, identified by hospital officials as Mohammed Hatem abu Sisi, was the third confirmed victim of Arab-Israeli violence in the Gaza Strip in the last month and, according to unofficial count, the 21st this year.
A Palestinian schoolgirl, 17, was shot to death last month by an Israeli settler in Gaza, and on Sunday an Israeli plastics merchant was stabbed to death there by an unidentified assailant believed to be an Arab.
The violence has touched off a political furor in Israel. On Monday, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres criticized the government’s encouragement of Jewish settlement in Gaza and proposed that the settlements there be dismantled in return for unspecified arrangements to demilitarize the area.
Peres’ Remarks Denounced
Right-wing politicians immediately charged that Peres’ remarks invited more attacks against Jews in Gaza. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir denounced the foreign minister’s proposal as defeatist.
About 2,200 Israelis live in three Jewish settlement blocks that take up about 40% of the available land in the Gaza Strip, which is also home to about 650,000 Palestinian Arabs. The strip, which is one of the most densely populated areas on Earth, was seized by Israel in the Arab-Israel War of 1967, along with the West Bank of the Jordan River.
The West Bank, as the heart of biblical Israel, is the better known and more sensitive of the occupied territories. And there are far more Jewish settlements there than in the Gaza Strip. The strip, though, has been the more explosive area of anti-Israeli resistance.
Palestinian sources said that in addition to the clash at Jabaliya, Israeli troops opened fire later in the day to disperse demonstrators in the central part of the city, at the Islamic University and at Shiffa Hospital, where the wounded from the morning incident were taken. They said the situation was out of control until mid-afternoon.
At the hospital, witnesses reported that a crowd of about 400 Palestinians threw stones at the soldiers and shouted, “Death to the Israelis!” The witnesses said the air was thick with black smoke from burning tires and with tear gas dropped on protesters from an Israeli army helicopter.
Arab sources said that Raed Shehadeh, 20, was shot in the head as he stood on a building opposite the hospital and died later.
A resident said the unrest was triggered by rumors that a traffic crash the day before was not an accident. Four Gazans were killed and seven injured in the crash, which occurred when their vans were struck by an Israeli truck. Most of the victims were from Jabaliya.
Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai, head of the army’s southern command, said another source of tension was a recent military order to deport the head of the popular Islamic Jihad organization in Gaza.
Gaza is the stronghold within Israel for a militant form of fundamentalism symbolized by the Islamic Jihad, a movement that has emerged over the past two years.