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During Gaza Raid, Some Civilians Slain Without Apparent Provocation - Father, Son Dead, Family Wonders Why

13 March 2002

As Israeli forces rumbled close to his house, 54-year-old Abdul Rahman Izzadin headed up the stairs and called down to his wife, children and grandchildren to stay indoors. Those were the last words they heard him say.

At the top of the stairs, as he reached to close the metal door leading to the rooftop, he was shot three times - in the ear, neck and cheek - and killed instantly, apparently by an Israeli sniper on the roof of an adjacent house that neighbors said the army had commandeered. Moments later, when Izzadin's 36-year-old son Walid rushed to his father's aid, he, too, was shot to death. It is not known why they were fired upon.

The Izzadins, killed as Israel invaded the Gaza Strip's Jabalya refugee camp late Monday, were buried today. Weeping family members accused Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of terrorism, and called him a "beast."

"Oh, my son, my son, my beloved son!" sobbed Walid's mother - and Abdul Rahman's widow - tears streaming down her cheeks. Her enraged daughters and daughters-in-law grabbed the two men's bloodstained clothes from a plastic sack and held them out to foreign visitors, as if demanding an explanation.

The Israeli invasion of Jabalya lasted just three hours, from 10:30 p.m. Monday to 1:30 this morning, but it exacted a heavy toll. Eighteen Palestinians, some of whom tried to fight back, were killed in the raid. Several dozen were wounded, including gunmen as well as paunchy middle-aged tailors and construction workers who were shot in their homes for no apparent reason. There were no Israeli casualties.

Few places in the Middle East are as poor, overcrowded, desperate and radicalized as Jabalya, a teeming camp of 100,000 that is fertile ground for the Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas, which has carried out suicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis.

Israeli officials say they attacked Jabalya in self-defense. At the camp's edge, troops blew up four metal workshops, which Israel says were used to make mortars and rockets that have been fired at Israeli communities inside and beyond the Gaza Strip.

"We had to guard our civilians," a senior Israeli security official said today. "If our people are being shelled, we have to prevent this."

But in the camp, where most of the men are jobless and thousands of children scamper barefoot amid open sewage and broken sidewalks and streets of sand, the attack was not a defeat. It prompted calls for revenge.

"Hey, Jews, you cowards!" announces a typical bit of wall graffiti in Jabalya. "We swear we'll answer your aggression. Just wait."

Jabalya has a long, bitter history of fighting the Jews. Fifteen years ago, it was where the first intifada, or Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, erupted. The Israelis finally pulled out of the camp in 1994, under the Oslo peace agreement, but they did not go far. Israeli troops and army bases remained inside the Gaza Strip within a couple of miles of Jabalya and within easy striking distance, as the camp's residents were reminded Monday.

With little warning, the tanks and armored vehicles streamed toward Jabalya from the north. Helicopter gunships roared overhead. The electricity was cut and phone service collapsed in most areas.

Word that the army was approaching raced through Jabalya's warren of narrow alleyways and trash-choked streets, and hundreds of the camp's young militants, armed and unarmed, raced south toward Gaza City to escape by car and on foot. Many headed for the main hospital, calculating that it was unlikely to be hit by the Israelis.

At least some militants stayed to fight, and fared poorly. One was a man who gave his name only as Bahjat, 20, who lay in the hospital today with bullet wounds in both feet. With his older brothers, he raced outdoors to face the Israelis, only to be met by machine-gun fire.

A car passed bearing three bodies, one of which Bahjat saw was that of his 30-year-old brother, Mohammed. Then he spotted another brother, Hani, 26, who lay dead in the street. As Bahjat raced to pick up Hani's gun, he was hit by Israeli bullets.

"I couldn't even see the Israeli tanks," he said, listless and barely audible in his hospital bed. "There were no lights."

Mohammed Madhoun, 50, a jowly, gray-haired tailor, was also hit by Israeli bullets, twice in the arm and once in the side. His mistake was curiosity: When he heard the Israeli tanks approach, their heavy treads gouging tracks in Jabalya's crumbling streets, he went to the roof.

"I was just trying to see what was going on," he said from his hospital bed, wincing with pain, his left arm immobile.

"Most of the fighters escaped from the camp before the tanks came," he said. "When they heard the helicopters, they ran. It's better for them to survive. What can they do against a tank?"

Lee Hockstader, in Gaza City, 12 March 2002
Published in the Washington Post © 2002 The Washington Post Company

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