A U.S. peace activist volunteering as a human shield on the West Bank of the Jordan River was seriously wounded today when Israeli troops allegedly opened fire on him.
Brian Avery, 24, from Albuquerque, N.M., heard shots fired and came out of his apartment building in Jenin to investigate just as an Israeli armoured personnel carrier rounded a corner, said Tobias Karlsson, a fellow activist from Sweden.
Avery and Karlsson are members of the International Solidarity Movement, which uses non-violent methods to protest against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. Members of the group often insert themselves between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers to try and stop Israeli military operations.
Palestinian medics attend to Brian Avery of the United States. Avery was wounded in the face while in the streets of the West Bank city of Jenin on April 5, 2003, Palestinian witnesses said. Photo by Reuters
"We had our hands up and we were wearing vests that clearly identified us as international workers when they began firing," Karlsson said.
"Brian was shot in the face and it looks like he was hit by a heavy calibre bullet because of the extent of the wound."
Avery was taken to a Jenin hospital but will be transferred to an Israeli hospital. Karlsson said Avery was semiconscious when taken in the ambulance.
The army said homemade firebombs were reported being thrown at troops and it returned fire at gunmen in the area, although it was not aware of hitting anyone. An officer said Palestinians were also shooting and it was unclear whose bullet hit Avery.
The U.S. State Department said it was looking into the report.
"The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and our Jerusalem consulate are now following up to find out what happened as well as confirm the identity and determine the welfare of the individual," State Department spokesperson Lou Fintor said in a statement in Washington.
Karlsson said he, Avery and a Palestinian medical worker not with the group were approached slowly by the troops and stood with their hands up for about 10 minutes. There was no communication with the soldiers, who Karlsson said fired unprovoked.
Karlsson did not see gunmen in the area and said few Palestinians were on the streets today because of a curfew Israeli troops were enforcing.
Maria Santelli, an organizer with the New Mexico Solidarity Network, said Avery, whose birthday is Thursday, was an easygoing man known around Albuquerque for his community work, which included volunteering at a grocery co-operative.
Santelli said Avery had written home, saying he wanted to carry on the work of Rachel Corrie, another American member of the group was killed March 16 while trying to stop an Israeli military bulldozer in the Gaza Strip. She fell in front of the machine, which ran over her and then backed up, witnesses said.
"He just wrote about Rachel Corrie," Santelli said.
"He was just letting people know back home what happened and that people were standing in her name and continuing her work."
Israeli officials said a bulldozer incident that killed the 23-year-old college student was an accident and the driver didn't see her. The driver is back on the job, the army said today.
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press