An elderly woman was killed yesterday when the Israeli army demolished her house while she was still inside, according to Palestinian witnesses and officials.
Kamla Said, 65, was found dead in the rubble of her family home after Israeli army sappers dynamited it during a raid on the Maghazi refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources said. Doctors at nearby Al-Aqsa hospital, where she was taken, said she died of a crushed chest.
The Israeli army said it was checking the reports of Ms Said's death, and claimed soldiers had carefully checked the building before demolishing it. One of her stepsons, Khaled Said, said: "Israeli troops were acting in a brutal way. They got us all out of the house so fast and in an aggressive manner, they gave no chance for us to see who was out and who was in." He said Ms Said was partially deaf and could not hear warnings from the soldiers to leave the house.
The Israeli army demolished the house because it used to be the home of another of Ms Said's stepsons, Baha Said, who killed two Israelis in an attack on the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom in September 2000, before being shot dead.
There have been other occasions when Palestinians were crushed to death when the Israeli army demolished their homes. One of the best-documented was in Nablus in April last year, when eight members of the al-Shubi family died because an Israeli soldier bulldozed their house, despite warnings that there were people inside.
In December, just a few miles north of Ms Said's home, Ashur Salem, 68, was crushed to death when Israeli soldiers blew up his house, witnesses said. His son said when he found the man's body, his head was "like a bar of chocolate, only two centimeters thick".
But there have also been instances when Palestinian claims that people had been crushed to death in house demolitions turned out to be false. There was a case in Jenin where Palestinians assumed a missing relative had died, only for him to later turn up alive.
The Israeli army routinely demolishes the homes of Palestinian militants, even after their deaths, claiming the suffering it inflicts on their families acts as a deterrent. International human rights groups have condemned the practice as collective punishment, which is outlawed under the Geneva conventions.
In practice, the relatives of suicide bombers and other dead militants are often provided with new homes by the militant groups, while their neighbors, whose homes are often also damaged or even destroyed, are the ones who are left homeless.
Recently there has been a spate of demolitions of houses and shops in the occupied territories whose Palestinian owners are not connected to any militant groups or attacks on Israelis, on the basis that they were built without the correct permits.
Further south in the Gaza Strip, 13 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli tank fire in Khan Younis, witnesses said. Israeli army sources said settlements near by had come under fire but said they knew nothing of Israeli tank fire.
Four other Palestinians were killed in separate incidents yesterday. A 20-year-old policeman was killed during an Israeli army raid on a police building. Palestinian witnesses said the man was shot dead as he and others tried to flee. The Israeli army said he was killed while resisting arrest.
In Nablus, a Palestinian youth was shot dead by Israeli soldiers. Palestinian witnesses said the soldiers opened fire on youths who were throwing stones at them. The Israeli army said the dead man was armed and had shot at troops.
Last night, two Palestinian medical staff from a hospital in a suburb of Gaza City were killed by gunfire from Israeli helicopters. Hospital officials said the two men had walked outside Al-Wafa hospital for the elderly on hearing the sound of shooting.
Meanwhile, an Israeli army operation in Hebron continued. Since the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, won the elections last week, there has been an upsurge in violence and confrontation in the occupied territories.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd