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Britons Join 200 in Human Shield

1 April 2002

More than 200 international volunteers, including some 50 Britons, deployed themselves in Ramallah and two refugee camps at Bethlehem last night in an attempt to form "human shields" for Palestinian families.

The British contingent, ranging from a retired nurse from Kent to a group of students from Manchester, joined Americans and Europeans dispersed among houses close to Yasser Arafat's headquarters and Israeli army tank formations near Bethlehem's Azar and Aida refugee camps.

Israel ordered all foreign volunteers and journalists to leave Ramallah yesterday, as another media worker was shot and wounded while covering the fighting in the city.

The warning came as Anthony Shadeed, an American reporter for the Boston Globe, was wounded in the back and shoulder after being shot near the city's main square. He said he was walking along one of the main streets with his Palestinian "fixer" when he was hit from behind by a single sniper shot. Israeli soldiers denied that he had been shot by their forces.

Israel warned that any foreigners who chose to remain in Ramallah did so at the risk of being mistaken for Palestinian gunmen and shot.

But speaking above gunshots and the clatter of a surveillance helicopter, Rory Macmillan, an international business lawyer from Scotland, said he was at the Aida camp in Bethlehem to offer non-violent resistance to any attempt by the Israelis to arrest Palestinians or threaten families.

"I decided to use my Easter holidays to come out with a group to dig up roadblocks and block tanks in the occupied territories," he said. "There are 15 or more tanks close by and there's a general expectation that they'll move in.

"The soldiers don't use the streets - they move from house to house, blasting holes in the wall to get through. We're here in the hope they'll hold back if there's a foreign national."

In Ramallah, Osama Mutawa from Brighton said his group of human shields asked the British consulate yesterday to evacuate them but had been told there were no plans to do so. He said: "The British public has no idea what is going on here. We decided we should come and try and stay with families to protect them."

Sarah Irving, 26, a Manchester University MA student in political economy, who is also staying at Azar, said: "You can't go anywhere at the moment, it's too dangerous, but we are each staying with a family. There are 38 tanks at the nearest checkpoint and we can hear an Israeli Cobra helicopter overhead."

Dr Mortaza Sahibzada, another British volunteer, said that despite the deteriorating situation, he planned to stay on at Aida until the second week in April, when he had to get back to his work as a research fellow in engineering at Imperial College, London.

Most of the British volunteers traveled to the Middle East with the International Solidarity Movement, a coalition of groups concerned about the plight of the Palestinians.

Peter Beaumont (in Ramallah) and Martin Wainwright
Published in the Guardian © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002

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