Sarah El Deeb / Vancouver Sun / Associated Press – 2006-03-10 07:55:21
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (March 09, 2006) — Two brothers and a third child nearby died when a missile slammed into a truck. The two brothers were helping out in their dad’s welding shop when an Israeli missile slammed into an ice-cream truck carrying Islamic Jihad gunmen. Two terrorists were killed, but so were the boys.
The tragic results of the air strike, which also killed a third child nearby, are prompting new debate in Israel over the targeted killings of Palestinian fugitives. Israel’s air force commander defended Monday’s attack, but two popular Israeli comedians proclaimed that an army that kills children no longer represents them.
The boys’ mother says it is too late for apologies.
“I ran to the window when I heard the strike. The window shattered, and I saw a man carrying Mahmoud’s lifeless body,” said Somaya al-Batsh, mother of eight-year-old Raed and 16-year-old Mahmoud. “But I couldn’t see Raed. I asked everyone, ‘Where is Raed? Where is Raed?’ A neighbour later told me that he flew through the air from the force of the blast.”
Receiving condolence callers in Raed’s bedroom in Gaza City, al-Batsh did not mask her anger at Israel. Dressed in black with only her eyes showing through her full veil, al-Batsh sat on her dead son’s bed. She said bitterly, “This was a street full of people and children. How can they fire a missile? Who is the terrorist here?”
Then she added, “My sons are in heaven now.”
The small room was decorated with the dead eight-year-old’s drawings — a winter scene, his grey unpainted house. Raed was the studious type, she said, and was already saving to buy a house. His red piggy bank rested near his bed, close to pictures of leaders of the militant group Hamas.
Mahmoud was a handyman, and kept people laughing around the house, she said. He picked fights with his sisters and cracked jokes about their living conditions.
In recent months, Israel has stepped up its air strikes in Gaza, aiming at terrorists it says are involved in daily rocket barrages at Israel. Civilians are often caught in the crossfire.An Israeli air force inquiry said the ice-cream truck carrying the terrorists had turned on to a crowded street after the missiles were launched Monday and it was too late to divert them. Drone aircraft photographing the scene did not pick up the civilians in time, the Maariv daily reported.
Another boy, 14-year-old Ahmed Sweisi, also was killed in the strike. He was dumping garbage at a street corner when the missiles hit.
Air force commander Eliezer Shkedy told a conference at Tel Aviv University Tuesday this is the sort of thing that happens in wartime — civilians get in the way. He offered statistics showing the air force is getting better at such targeted strikes. In 2002, as many bystanders were killed in the air strikes as terror suspects. Last year, Shkedy said, 28 terrorists were killed for every civilian in the raids.
Just as the statistics were no comfort to the grieving mother, they did not satisfy all Israelis, either.
Reflecting growing concern about air strikes in crowded cities, Shai and Dror, a two-man team of Israeli comedians who broadcast daily on a Tel Aviv radio station and write a column in the Maariv newspaper, turned dead serious Wednesday.
The air force commander’s explanation “does not clear our conscience,” they wrote in what they called an open letter to the slain boys’ mother.
They wrote that they have many friends who feel the same way, though they would not say so in public, “because the Israeli narrative does not allow people to come out against the military. . . . It is forbidden to say that this army does not represent me. But it doesn’t. Not when it kills children.”
It’s not the first time Israel has killed children in air strikes targeting terrorists.
Some 514 Palestinians age 16 and younger were killed between September 2000 and March 2005, according to an Associated Press count. During the same period, 97 Israeli children were killed in Palestinian suicide bombings and other attacks.
In July 2002, the air force targeted Hamas commander Salah Shehadeh. A plane dropped a huge bomb on his house in Gaza City, killing him and 14 other people, including nine children.
That set off an international outcry that has yet to subside. Israeli military officers involved in the bombing have been threatened with arrest when they travel abroad, and two had to cancel trips as a result.
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