Palestinian man used as human shield during Israeli siege of Bethlehem

Israeli soldiers use a Palestinian man as a human shield during a military operation in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, 3 November 2006. (MaanImages/Magnus Johansson)

Ma’an - Israeli troops invaded the Saf area of the West Bank city of Bethlehem early on Friday morning. Over a dozen military jeeps surrounded a building near the girls’ school in the area. Armed Palestinians exchanged fire with the Israeli soldiers on and off throughout the morning, resulting in at least six serious Palestinian injuries. A teenage boy was shot dead by the Israeli forces. One of the injured, an 80-year-old woman, is currently undergoing surgery.

Around mid-day, after partly bulldozing the house of Saher Hassan, an active member of Islamic Jihad whom the Israeli army appear to be targeting, the Israeli soldiers began forcing their way in using a ‘human shield’. The Palestinian man, possibly a family member of Saher Hassan, is being forced to enter the building ahead of the Israeli soldiers and carry in their military equipment. Eyewitnesses say that the equipment appears to be a large black box, with a cord stretching back to the Israeli forces outside. This suggests a form of remotely-controlled detonator or gun.

In addition, a second young Palestinian man was ordered by the Israeli soldiers to carry any furniture that had not already been totally destroyed out of the building.

A large bulldozer (a ‘bagger’) arrived on the scene around 1pm and began knocking down the three-story building. A fire was seen burning in the building around 5pm.

When Palestinians opened fire on the Israeli soldiers earlier on Friday, the Israeli soldiers responded by firing indiscriminately at the besieged building. An 80-year-old female bystander named Fatima Muhammad Zahran received multiple wounds in the abdomen and legs after the Israeli forces shot her. She is currently undergoing surgery in the hospital and is in very serious condition.

A boy, Mahmoud, aged seven or eight, was critically injured by a gunhot wound to his head. Another man, aged around 30, was shot in the abdomen. Another woman was injured by gunshots. Another woman, Rasmiyeh Khamis Dar’awi, suffered light wounds.

Two other Palestinian teenage boys were seriously injured around 2pm when the Israeli soldiers started firing live ammunition in the area. One of the teenage boys, Abid Khalil Subih, aged 13, died almost instantly after being shot in the head.

The injured Palestinians are being treated in the Hussein hospital in Beit Jala.

According to the website of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, an Israeli border police officer was “lightly to moderately” injured by shrapnel and has been transferred to Hadassah Ein Karam Hospital in Jerusalem.

A lot of elderly, women and children gathered in the street after the Israeli jeeps took up position around the three-storey building in As-Saf Street where Saher Hassan is believed to be living. Many of the local residents were forced out of their homes early on Friday and were still unable to return as the operation continued around midday.

Eyewitnesses saw the soldiers throw tear gas grenades at the crowd and also into a house where many people were taking refuge; many of the bystanders were being treated by Palestinian medical services for the effects of the gas. Several women and children had fainted.

Soldiers were also observed beating some of the Palestinian bystanders and several people were injured, including women and children. A number of ambulances were on standby to treat the injured.

Earlier, eyewitnesses heard three explosions from inside the targeted building. The building remained standing although it sustained much material damage. In one nearby house, all the windows were blown out.

In addition, 22-year-old Palestinian man Hassan Ibrahim Hassan was detained by the Israeli forces after part of his house was blown up.

The operation, which began around 4am was still ongoing at 2pm (Jerusalem time). Shots were heard in the area throughout the day.

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