US activist, Rachel Corrie, 23, killed by IDF bulldozer in Gaza

Israeli bulldozer kills American woman

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — An American woman in Gaza to protest Israeli operations was killed Sunday when she was run over by an Israeli bulldozer, witnesses and hospital officials said.

Rachel Corrie, 23, a college student from Olympia, Wash., had been trying to stop the bulldozer from tearing down a building in the Rafah refugee camp, witnesses said. She was taken to Najar hospital in Rafah, where she died, said Ali Moussa, a hospital administrator.

Israeli military spokesman Capt. Jacob Dallal said her death was an accident. The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment.

Greg Schnabel, 28, of Chicago, said the protesters were in the house of Dr. Samir Masri. Israeli almost daily has been tearing down houses of Palestinians it suspects in connection with Islamic militant groups, saying such operations deter attacks on Israel such as suicide bombings.

“Rachel was alone in front of the house as we were trying to get them to stop,” Schnabel said. “She waved for the bulldozer to stop and waved. She fell down and the bulldozer kept going. We yelled, ‘Stop, stop,’ and the bulldozer didn’t stop at all. It had completely run over her and then it reversed and ran back over her.”

Witnesses said Corrie was wearing a brightly colored jacket when the bulldozer hit her. She had been a student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia and would have graduated this year, Schnabel said.

Groups of international protesters have gathered in several locations in the West Bank and Gaza during two years of Palestinian violence, setting themselves up as “human shields” to try to stop Israeli operations.

Corrie was the first member of the groups, called “International Solidarity Movement” and backed by Palestinian groups, to be killed in the conflict. Several activists have been arrested in clashes with Israeli forces, and some have been deported by Israeli authorities.

In November, three group members were arrested while trying to prevent Israel from building a security fence between Israel and the West Bank, charging that Israel was taking Palestinian land for the project.

In May, 10 activists raced past Israeli soldiers into the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where dozens of Palestinians were holed up in a standoff with Israeli soldiers outside. After an agreement was reached, the activists refused to leave the church, marking the traditional birthplace of Jesus, holding up the solution. Then they charged that they were mistreated by clergy, who claimed the activists desecrated the church by smoking and drinking alcohol.

During an Israeli siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah, several members of the group sneaked past Israeli soldiers into the building.

Schnabel said there were eight protesters at the site in Rafah, four from the United States and four from Great Britain. “We stay with families whose house is to be demolished,” he told the Associated Press by telephone after the incident.

Mansour Abed Allah, 29, a Palestinian human rights worker in Rafah, witnessed the incident. He said the killing should be a message to President Bush, who is “providing Israel with tanks and bulldozers, and now they killed one of his own people.”

Israel sends tanks and bulldozers into the area almost every day, destroying buildings near the Gaza-Egypt border. The Israelis say Palestinian gunmen use the buildings as cover, and arms-smuggling tunnels dug under the border terminate in the buildings.

According to interim peace accords, Israel controls the border area, where there are clashes almost daily between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers.