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Israelis fire on crowds in Gaza
by bbc
Wednesday May 19th, 2004 8:33 AM
The Israeli army has opened fire on a crowd of Palestinian demonstrators in the town of Rafah in southern Gaza.
At least 10 people were killed and 60 injured, though some reports put the number of casualties higher.

The army said it did not deliberately target protesters, but a helicopter and tanks had fired warning shots to stop crowds entering a battle zone.

Thousands of people were demonstrating against a massive Israeli operation in the refugee camp on the edge of Rafah.

Israeli forces entered Rafah refugee camp on Tuesday to attack militants and find and destroy tunnels used to smuggle weapons.

It has been one of the largest and bloodiest operations in Gaza since Israel occupied it in 1967, leaving at least 34 dead and 100 wounded. There have been no Israeli casualties.

The United States says it is "very concerned" about the number of Palestinian dead and injured and has asked Israel for "the facts".

"We urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.

Hospital chaos

The incident happened as about 3,000 demonstrators marched down the main street of Rafah towards the Tel Sultan area where Israeli raids have been concentrated in the last two days.

Dramatic TV footage of the incident showed a large explosion going off in the middle of a crowd as Israeli helicopters flew overhead firing anti-missile flares.

Dozens of wounded - many of them children - were evacuated by ambulance, private cars and donkey carts to the Rafah hospital, witnesses said.

A BBC correspondent at the hospital said the floors were drenched in blood as doctors treated incoming patients in corridors and on staircases.

The Israeli military said it was too early to say exactly what had happened, although it suggested that explosives laid by Palestinians could have been responsible.

Army spokeswoman Brig Gen Ruth Yaron said that Israeli forces had fired warning shots after seeing "armed men in the midst of the demonstration".

"Tank shells were fired at [an abandoned] structure, at no point in the direction of the demonstrators," she said, although she admitted that it was possible that there may have been "casualties as a result of the tank shells".

"We regret the loss of innocent life and are offering to treat those who are injured in our hospitals," she added.

Besieged district

The bloodshed came shortly after reports that thousands of Tel Sultan residents had complied with an Israeli demand that they surrender.

Twenty-four Palestinians have already died in Tel Sultan during an operation dubbed "Operation Rainbow" by the Israeli army.

Soldiers had called on loudspeakers for all males aged 16 or over to come out carrying white flags or risk the demolition of their family homes.

Israeli commanders later told journalists they only wanted militants to come out.

Israeli actions have raised an international outcry after army chief Lt Gen Moshe Yaalon said troops would flatten rows of homes in Rafah camp to widen a patrol road along the border with Egypt.

Palestinian militants are active in the area, and seven Israeli soldiers were killed nearby in ambushes last week.

The area also houses tunnels for smuggling weapons from Egyptian territory less than a kilometre away, the army says.

However, the army said on Tuesday that there was no plan to carry out systematic demolition of homes during the operation.
§another pic
by another pic Wednesday May 19th, 2004 9:09 AM
At least 50 people were wounded in the attack, also mostly children, a hospital official said.
However, Israeli media reported the toll was much higher. “Twenty-two Palestinians were killed, among them women and children. More than 50 were wounded,” said the Y-net Web site of the best-selling newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. The Jerusalem Post gave a similiar toll.
Israel's military acknowledged that soldiers fired four tank shells, a missile and machine guns to stop 3,000 Palestinian demonstrators it said were heading toward a battle zone in the Gaza Strip.
by pic Wednesday May 19th, 2004 9:11 AM
A Palestinian man carries an injured child after an Israeli missile strike on a demonstration in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday. (AP/Khalil Hamra)
§another pic
by pic Wednesday May 19th, 2004 9:23 AM
The body of a Palestinian youth is carried into hospital after Israeli troops fired a missile on protesters in Rafah. White House spokesman spokesman Scott McClellan said the United States is 'very concerned' about the number of Palestinians killed in Israel's major military raid in the Gaza Strip and has sought answers from Israel.(AFP/Said Khatib)
by pic Wednesday May 19th, 2004 10:16 AM
Seven Palestinian who were killed in an Israeli missile strike, are seen in a makeshift morgue in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, May 19, 2004. At least eight people were killed and dozens wounded in the attack. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)