The hope raised by Israel's recent proposal to withdraw from the
Gaza Strip has skidded into a harsh reality: The territory is being
transformed into battlefield with civilians caught in the crossfire.
The Israeli army raided two Gaza refugee camps early Sunday,
killing 14 Palestinians and wounding more than 80. The incursion
squelched expectations that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's
offer to withdraw from the Gaza Strip - and remove all or most of
the 17 settlements there - could represent a turning point in the
The raid began around 2 a.m. and continued until approximately 8
a.m., when many Palestinians were heading to work and school. It
came a day after an attack on an Israeli checkpoint that the Israeli
army found worrisomely innovative: Palestinian militants had painted
two jeeps in the same khaki color used by the Israeli military,
attempting to ram the checkpoint with explosives. In that botched
attack, six Palestinians were killed.
In Sunday's raids, 10 of those killed were confirmed by local and
Israeli military sources to be armed gunmen - nine of them
affiliated with Hamas, the Islamic militant group opposed to all
compromise with Israel. But the other four appear to be civilians,
all under the age of 16, including an 8-year-old boy. According to
some reports, they threw stones and firebombs at the soldiers.
Ali Mohammed, a middle-aged factory worker, said he was in the
street when he saw a bullet cut down a young boy out in the street
with his friends. Israeli soldiers, Mr. Mohammed says, were shooting
from the roof of a building they occupied, and from helicopters.
Witnesses say they also saw four or five tanks, which left behind
muddied tracks, to back up the soldiers.
"He was on his way to school. I took shelter against the wall,
but the boy was exposed. Everyone was running. I saw him, his face
was on the ground," Mohammed says of Mahmoud Younis, the 8-year-old
boy he had hoped to save. "It was a killing in cold blood."
That was the common sentiment of most Palestinians here, many of
whom were already skeptical of Mr. Sharon's sincerity since he
announced he would withdraw the Israeli army along with residents of
17 Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip. The pullout is supposed
to start by the end of the year.
While some Palestinians searched for loved ones and prepared for
funerals, others wore camouflage shirts and black masks over their
faces. Walls in the camps were spray-painted with messages that
foreshadowed more "martyrdom" - a sort of sainthood in which
Palestinians include both innocent bystander and suicide bomber
Ziad Abu Amr, an analyst who studied Islamic fundamentalists
movements in Gaza, says that deadly invasions like Sunday's help
recruit more Palestinians for attacks on Israel. "Is the idea to
provoke Palestinian reaction and retaliation, and for Sharon to find
a pretext to give up on his proposed withdrawal from settlements? Or
is this a way to divert attention from his internal problems?" asks
"Large numbers of Palestinians would be motivated to become
bombers to avenge this," he says. …