Protests Force Israel to Halt Airstrikes

The Associated Press
Sunday, November 19, 2006; 10:52 AM

BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip -- Israel called off airstrikes on the homes of two militants Sunday after hundreds of Palestinians crowded around the buildings forming human shields, a new tactic that forced the army to re-evaluate its aerial campaign in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians began to gather around the homes shortly after the Israeli army ordered occupants out of them. Israel routinely issues such warnings before attacking buildings that it says are used to store weapons, saying it wants to avoid casualties.

Instead of leaving the buildings, the homeowners remained inside and were quickly joined by crowds of supporters who gathered on balconies, rooftops and in the streets outside.

"Death to Israel. Death to America," the crowds chanted. Local mosques and Palestinian TV and radio stations also mobilized supporters. It was the first time Palestinians have formed human shields to prevent an airstrike.

The first incident occurred just before midnight at the home of Mohammed Baroud, a leader of the Popular Resistance Committees, in the northern town of Beit Lahiya. Baroud oversees rocket attacks on Israel. About two hours later, Mohammed Nawajeh, a Hamas leader in northern Gaza, got a similar call.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas arrived at Baroud's home early Sunday to support the protest.

"We are so proud of this national stand. It's the first step toward protecting our homes, the homes of our children," Haniyeh said as he made his way to the roof.

People loyal to various Palestinian factions _ Hamas, Fatah and the Popular Resistance Committees _ which have often fought each other, answered calls for help.

Redwan Abu Daya, a 16-year-old Fatah supporter who lives near Baroud, said he was ignoring party lines because he felt a duty to protect his neighbor's homes from bombardment.

"I came here because everyone should be here," Abu Daya said, while the nearby mosque called on loudspeakers for people to gather at Baroud's home.

Dozens of Palestinian men milled about the dark street in front of the home throughout the chilly night. Some brandished M-16 rifles, occasionally firing into the night sky. Others clenched their fists or pointed defiantly into the air.

On Sunday afternoon, dozens more, many holding automatic rifles, remained on the rooftop of Baroud's home. Preparing for a long standoff, demonstrators said they had split into 12-hour shifts to guard the buildings around the clock.

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