Dead Buried in Gaza As Killings Continue
By Glenn Frankel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 21, 2004; Page A15
RAFAH, Gaza Strip, May 21 -- Palestinians on Thursday buried protest marchers a day after they were killed by Israeli artillery and missile fire, and seven more Palestinians were killed as soldiers and tanks moved into additional sections of this densely populated city and refugee camp.
Six of the eight people killed in the march on Wednesday were buried in the afternoon, among them three children ages 9, 12 and 13. Battered metal doors of shops throughout the city were bolted shut to protest the incident and honor the dead, who were cut down when an Israeli helicopter gunship and tank fired on demonstrators seeking to enter a neighborhood that has been sealed off by troops since Monday.
Five Palestinians were killed in missile strikes early Thursday, and witnesses said two more died in exchanges with soldiers later in the day, bringing to 39 the number of Palestinians killed in the four days since the Israeli army launched Operation Rainbow, a large-scale incursion officials said was aimed at rooting out militants and weapons. At least 100 Palestinians have been wounded, according to Palestinian medical workers.
Two Palestinians also were killed Thursday in the West Bank, according to witnesses: a local guerrilla leader with the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, in the town of Qalqilyah and a 13-year-old boy shot by soldiers in a stone-throwing incident near the city of Hebron.
Israeli military officials, who refused to be identified, said Wednesday's march had been organized by Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups as a provocation. They said they were still seeking an explanation, however, for why shells fired by the tank -- which the military said were warning shots -- rained shrapnel on the crowd. There has been widespread international condemnation of the incident.
Thursday's funeral ceremony began at the Abrar mosque, just down the road from where the demonstration had begun Wednesday. Men and boys clustered around six tightly wrapped bodies, which lay on a stretcher on the floor with each face visible and a Koran on each chest. In one knot of mourners sat Najee Abu Qanar, 40, staring silently at the body of his 12-year-old son, Walid.
The father said he had not attended Wednesday's march but heard from friends that his son had been at the front of the procession carrying a symbolic bag of bread and milk to residents of Tel Sultan, the cordoned-off area, when the army opened fire.
People ran to the house to tell him Walid had been injured, Abu Qanar recalled. He said he rushed to nearby Najjar Hospital, where he discovered his son's body in the morgue.
After speaking in Arabic, Abu Qanar switched to English to condemn Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his son's death. "He's a baby," Abu Qanar said of his son. "Sharon shot a baby."
Some men prayed, while others gathered around the corpses. Children flocked like small birds around their dead friends. "Look at these kids," said Abu Qanar. "They're all here from our area. Everyone liked my son."
After the brief ceremony, the bodies were hauled out the front door of the mosque and taken to the dusty Martyrs' Cemetery. Residents said the seldom-used burial ground was chosen because the main one was too close to Israeli tanks.
While male relatives and other mourners poured into the cemetery, the women remained at home conducting their own ritual. In a small courtyard framed by raw concrete, the mother of Mubarak Hasheh, 9, spoke about her son's death.
Najwa Hasheh, 36, said she was listening to the radio when she heard news of the incident. Children streaming back to the neighborhood told her Mubarak had been wounded. Relatives drove Hasheh to three area hospitals, but she couldn't find him. Finally, a cousin drove her home, where she was informed of Mubarak's death.
"He was killed at 3," she said. "I didn't know until 7."
She said her son had talked about wanting to become a martyr, which has celebrity status among children here, but she had tried to stop him from joining demonstrations. One time she hid his sandals to prevent him from going to a rally, she recalled, but he climbed out a window and went barefoot. With schools frequently closed during protests and military actions, she said, there was little to keep a bored small boy from the crowd.
"Every Israeli soldier who was there in the shelling, I wish that his mother will be sad and angry one day as I am sad and angry for my child," Hasheh said.
Overnight the army moved into three new areas close to the Philadelphi corridor, a swath of no man's land along the border with Egypt that Israeli officials contend is honeycombed with tunnels for smuggling weapons into Gaza.
[At daybreak Friday, Israeli forces began pulling out of the Rafah refugee camp, according to news services. Israeli military sources confirmed that soldiers were "redeploying," but added that the search for tunnels would continue, the Associated Press reported.]
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel reported complaints that food -- especially baby food -- water, blood and medical supplies were running low in the areas sealed off by soldiers. The group said a mother and her three children were wounded by tank fire but not immediately evacuated for treatment. It also reported that a bulldozer dumped sand and dirt atop an ambulance, blocking it for more than an hour.
Capt. Jacob Dallal, an Israeli military spokesman, said no health crisis existed in the cordoned-off zones and that the army was coordinating with local officials to prevent shortages. "We are doing everything to ensure all the necessary essentials get to the population," he said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company