RAM, JAN. 3 -- An Israeli soldier chasing stone throwers through this West Bank Arab suburb of Jerusalem today shot dead Haniya Suleiman Ghasawni. She was the 23rd Palestinian to be killed in civil violence in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip during the past four weeks, and her death renewed questions about how the Army handles confrontations in heavily populated Arab neighborhoods.
The Army and local residents agreed the 25-year-old woman was an innocent victim -- but their initial accounts varied widely. Army officials expressed regret for the death, which ended a 12-day stretch in which no one was killed, and violent protest appeared to be evaporating.
The Army said its preliminary investigation indicated the soldier was chasing 20 masked stone throwers when he fired his weapon. A military source said it appeared the soldier's life was in danger at the time he fired.
But a witness, Inam Khatab, a distant cousin of the victim, said the soldier was chasing one lone boy, shot twice at him and missed, then caught up with him in a garden behind an apartment house. When Ghasawni shouted from behind the soldier, telling him not to harm the boy, Khatab said, the soldier whirled around and shot her dead.
The Army's commander on the West Bank, Gen. Amram Mitzna came to the scene, later suspending the soldier and his company commander, an Army statement said, because "they did not act according to regulations."
The incident occurred shortly before noon when a group of youths began throwing stones at vehicles on the Jerusalem-to-Ramallah road, the Army said. Soldiers quickly arrived and gave chase.
In the first days of last month's violence, soldiers often opened fire when they found themselves in small numbers without riot-control equipment while surrounded by mobs of stone throwers or gasoline-bomb throwers.
As the Palestinian death toll rose and generated criticism of the Army, it changed tactics, ordering troops to patrol in units of 12 or more while wearing helmets and carrying tear gas and rubber bullets. They were not supposed to enter densely populated areas without backup, but were to remain on the periphery, military officials said.
Today in Ram, for reasons that are unclear, soldiers reverted to the old tactics. A small group of paratroops in red berets chased the stone throwers. Residents said one soldier pursued a boy more than a mile through the hilly alleyways, far from the Army unit.
When the boy ducked onto the porch of the apartment house where Inam Khatab lives, the soldier fired two shots at him. Two holes in a window marked where the bullets entered the house. Under Israeli Army rules, soldiers are allowed to open fire only when their lives are endangered or when they are pursuing a suspect in a serious crime.
Khatab said the soldier chased the boy down a hallway, kicking in an apartment door and pursuing the youth through the building to the backyard, where he grabbed him in a small garden. Ghasawni, an unmarried woman who lived nearby and who was taking care of a young nephew at the time, ran up to a patio above where the two were standing and shouted down at the soldier. He then turned and shot her in the neck, according to Khatab.
The soldier apparently panicked, Khatab said. He let go of the boy's arm and ran off. Residents said he first turned the wrong way and headed deeper into the winding suburb, running aimlessly for several minutes before his unit found him. A resident in a private car took Ghasawni's body to nearby Ramallah Hospital.
Gen. Mitzna, quickly arrived to question the soldier and his commander.
Mitzna and other senior officers have stressed in recent days that soldiers should not open fire unless their lives were in clear and immediate danger and that commanders should ensure that their men not be placed in such a situation. An Army source said Mitzna was furious about the incident.
After the shooting, Palestinian youths burned tires, erected makeshift barricades and threw more stones at soldiers, but the Army stayed largely on the periphery of the neighborhood.
Late in the afternoon, a unit of about two dozen helmeted soldiers marched into the area and ordered youths to clear away the debris. Peace was restored but the violence, which had been subsiding had claimed another victim.