Advisory: TIPH reports “no information on the shooting” of two of its personnel

Various news organisations reporting on the killing of one Turkish and one Swiss member of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) have included the Israeli claim that it was Palestinian gunmen who opened fire on the TIPH vehicle.

A TIPH spokesperson, reached by telephone in Hebron by The Electronic Intifada today categorically stated that TIPH had “No information on the shooting.”

At 19.38 GMT the Ha’aretz website while carrying the claim of the Israeli army that the gunmen were Palestinian reported that:

“Two members of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) observers force were killed Tuesday, after the vehicle in which they were traveling came under fire from an unknown source. Israeli troops searched the area but were unable to locate the gunmen.”

The website report also added that:

IDF sources are saying that no Israeli troops were stationed in the area.”

The obvious question then is: if no Israeli troops were in the area, and the source of the fire is unknown and undetected, how could the Israeli army know that Palestinians were the culprits?

Some news agencies are less than careful about identifying the Israeli claims as claims. National Public Radio reported in its 3PM ET news bulletin that:

“Israeli military officials say two Norwegian observers from an international force in Hebron were shot and killed today. The observers were killed when Palestinians opened fire on their car in the West Bank. They were driving on a bypass road used mostly by Jewish settlers when their car came under fire north of Hebron, and they are the first members of the observer force to be killed in the West Bank.”

The TIPH was introduced into Hebron in 1994 after Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler in the city, massacred 29 Palestinians during Ramadan prayers. Tensions between the TIPH and the settlers have often been high. In 1998, TIPH members reported that Israeli settlers were increasingly hostile towards them, and settlers shouted “Nazis, go to Auschwitz” at them. Settler leader Noam Arnon called the TIPH an “anti-Semitic organization.” (Yediot Aharonot, September 7, 1998). More recently, on March 12th, Israeli incitement against the TIPH has been noted, with an article in the Jerusalem Post in which a senior IDF commander in Hebron is quoted saying:

“We [the IDF] have intelligence information that they [TIPH] are giving information to the terrorist groups.”

Palestinians have criticized the TIPH for being toothless to stop attacks on them by Israeli settlers, but have not been hostile towards it as have Israeli settlers and military personnel in the Hebron area. It also seems unlikely that a TIPH car — which carries clear markings — would be targeted by Palestinian gunmen attempting to attack settlers, which some reports have suggested may have been the case.

Responsible news organizations should report Israeli claims as just that — and wait until the facts are known before reaching conclusions.

The Electronic Intifada condemns the targeting of all international personnel working in the region, and calls on both sides to take care to ensure the safety of foreign visitors.


TIPH Press Release: Tuesday 26th of March 2002

Tonight, two members of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) were killed and another was injured in a shooting incident that took place at approximately 20:30. The incident occurred near the Halhoul bridge on bypass road no. 35, northwest of Hebron. The two killed were a Swiss female TIPH member and a Turkish male TIPH member. The one injured is a Turkish male TIPH member. He has been brought to Hadassa hospital, En Kerem, and his condition is stable. The three TIPH members were travelling in a TIPH marked vehicle. The members were not on duty.


Initial coverage and reports

Initially, there were three conflicting reports of the initial attack discernable in the initial coverage and reports of the attack:

  1. Various wire services report on 27 March 2002 that the third passenger in the TIPH car, Capt. Huseyin Ozaslan, told Israel Radio while in the ambulance on the way to the hospital that the perpetrator was a man dressed in Palestinian police uniform, and was standing in the middle of the road when they drove up. This account has Ozaslan yelling “We are TIPH” at the person standing there, who continues to shoot and then runs off.

  2. Palestinian human rights organisation LAW reports there was Israeli tank fire and machine gun fire on the same road 20 minutes prior to the attack at 8:10pm. One Associated Press report quotes TIPH official Kim Zamder as saying “They were traveling in a clearly marked car, which ran into a crossfire”.

  3. Xinhua news agency reports that “Israeli sources believe that the fatal shots were fired from a moving vehicle, traveling at speed.”

The three conflicting scenarios describe a gunman dressed like a Palestinian standing in the road as the vehicle approached; crossfire perhaps during an Israeli attack on a Palestinian neighbourhood and a Palestinian response; and a drive-by shooting.

TIPH Press Release: March 27th, 2002

Yesterday on 26 March at approx. 20:20 hrs two TIPH members were killed and one injured in a shooting incident on Bypass Road 35 near Halhoul Bridge. The killed were observer Catherine Berruex from Switzerland and Deputy Head of Operation Division Turtug Cengiz Toytunc. Observer Huseyin Ozarslan from Turkey was injured and is in stable condition in a Hospital in Jerusalem. This morning TIPH was informed about the details of the incident. The three TIPH members left Hebron in a TIPH marked car from TIPH HQ at 20:10 hrs yesterday night. They drove via Halhoul Bridge to Bypass Road 35 in the direction of Tel Aviv. Shortly after reaching Bypass Road 35, the observers heard shooting in front of and above the car and immediately stopped their vehicle. An un-identified man was standing approximately five meters in front of the car. The TIPH members identified themselves by shouting in English and Arabic that they were TIPH observers. Nevertheless, the man regained shooting towards them. When the shooting stopped, one observer was dead and one injured but alive.

At that point the un-injured observer took the injured observer out of the car and informed TIPH HQ. Shortly afterwards the IDF arrives at the spot in two jeeps. At the same time an exchange of fire erupted between that location and a location south of Bypass Road 35. At that time more IDF forces arrived at the spot. After the exchange of fire, the injured observer had been shot dead and the third observer was injured.

When the news of the incident reached TIPH, an armoured TIPH Jeep with a patrol was immediately sent to the scene. At the spot, the patrol found the two TIPH members dead lying on the ground. The injured observer had been taken to an IDF ambulance. The TIPH patrol observed that the TIPH vehicle had been hit by several bullets. A TIPH nurse went with the injured observer to Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem in the IDF ambulance. The bodies of the two killed observers were taken to Al-Ahli hospital in Hebron, escorted by TIPH personnel.

A TIPH patrol was sent to be present at the hospital at all times, and another patrol was sent to examine the scene of the attack.

TIPH is at the moment following-up the incident. Both the Israeli authorities and the Palestinian authorities are cooperating with TIPH.

Both of the killed TIPH members will be taken to their respective countries for autopsy.

The TIPH vehicle has been taken to be examined at the Israeli police headquarters in the presence of a TIPH observer.

Hebron, March 27, 2002
Arnstein Overkil, Head of Mission

TIPH Press Release April 2nd, 2002

Funeral of Ms. Berruex and MajorToytunç

Swiss national Catherine Berruex will be buried in Vers L’eglise on Wednesday the 3rd of April at 14:00 hours. Representatives from the Swiss government and from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will attend the funeral together with family and friends. TIPH will be present with Head of Mission, Mr. Arnstein Øverkil, the Swiss TIPH contingency as well as other TIPH members.

Turkish national Major Turgut Cengiz Toytunç was given a state funeral service in Ankara before being buried in Antalya on Thursday. The funeral was attended by Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit and representatives from Parliament and the Military Forces.

Clarification of events Details regarding the tragic shooting on Tuesday 26th of April [sic: should be March] are still uncertain. The Turkish and Swiss governments have sent investigators to monitor and assist the Israeli and Palestinian authorities. TIPH is at the moment following-up the incident.

Due to the complex circumstances surrounding the event, several different versions have appeared. TIPH would therefore like to clarify certain details.

It is clear that the three TIPH members left for Tel Aviv at 20:10 hours on the 26th of March. Just outside Hebron, at bypass road 35, they heard shooting in the immediate vicinity. After stopping, an armed man was observed standing approximately five metres in front of the car.

The observers identified themselves to the man in English and Arabic, and pledged for him not to shoot. A few seconds later the man opened fire through the left window, killing driver Major Toytunç. Observer Berruex, who was in the left front seat, was also hit. Duty Officer Hussein Ozarslan was in the back seat, and immediately threw himself down on the floor. He was also hit, either directly or by shrapnel.

The shooting ended after some time. Looking up, Officer Ozarslan affirmed that the gunman had fled. He then alarmed TIPH headquarters by phone, requesting an ambulance. He stated that Major Toytunç was dead and that Observer Berruex was maybe dead. He proceeded to take Ms. Berruex out of the car, noticing that she was still breathing.

The Israeli Defence Force arrived shortly after with two jeeps and some Armoured Personnel Carriers. The soldiers began to give first aid to Ms. Berruex, while Officer Ozarslan was taken to an IDF jeep. Shooting then erupted towards the scene of the incident. The IDF soldiers discontinued the treatment, and started retaliating. The IDF then moved the APCs in to cover Ms. Berruex and the TIPH car. After the shooting again stopped, Ms Berruex was found dead.

An armoured TIPH jeep arrived some minutes later. The patrol found Major Toytunç and Observer Berruex lying dead on the ground. The injured observer had been taken to an IDF ambulance. It was observed that the TIPH vehicle had been hit by several bullets. A TIPH nurse went with Officer Ozarslan to the Sa’arei Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem. The bodies of the two killed observers were taken to Al-Ahli hospital in Hebron, escorted by the TIPH Medical Officer. TIPH were present at all times at the hospital.

Major Toytunç and Observer Berruex were taken to their respective countries for autopsies. These results have not been concluded. The TIPH vehicle was taken to the Israeli police headquarters in Jerusalem, and examined in the presence of TIPH observers with adequate background.

Arnstein Overkill
Head of Mission
Hebron, 2 April, 2002

Further information:

Ib Knutsen,
Senior Press and Information Officer
Telephone: + 972 59 202 828