US demands probe of American woman’s killing in Gaza

The Age (Melbourne) Monday 17 March 2003

US demands Gaza killing probe

The United States has demanded a full and immediate investigation by Israel into the death of a US peace activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer in the Gaza Strip as she tried to prevent the destruction of Palestinian homes.

The State Department said it deeply regretted the death of Rachel Corrie, which it called tragic, and offered its sincere condolences to her family.

And although the department declined to condemn the incident, it said it had made clear to Israel that it expected a thorough probe into the matter.

“We have been in contact with the Israeli government and have called on the government of Israel and the Israeli Defence Forces to conduct an immediate and full investigation into the circumstances of this death,” said Louis Fintor, a department spokesman.

Corrie, 23, from Washington state, died after a military bulldozer ran her over in the town of Rafah, according to the Rafah hospital and a witness.

“She was sitting in the path of the bulldozer,” said fellow activist Joseph Smith. “The bulldozer saw her and ran over her. She ended up completely underneath it. He absolutely knew she was there.”

Corrie was part of a group from the International Solidarity Movement who were attempting to block the paths of two bulldozers and an Israeli tank tearing down Palestinian buildings in Rafah, on the Gaza Strip’s Israeli-controlled border with Egypt.

Israeli forces make frequent incursions from their border positions into Rafah, a sprawling autonomous town with a large refugee population. Dozens of Palestinians and several Israeli soldiers have been killed in the sector.

The army says tanks and bulldozers are sent to destroy houses used by militants to fire on Israeli positions and that are also used as a cover for smugglers moving weapons through tunnels under the Egyptian border.

Since June 2002, the Israeli army has destroyed more than 150 houses belonging to Palestinians allegedly involved in anti-Israel attacks or smuggling.

The United States has frequently criticised Israel’s destruction of homes, calling it counter-productive, and has expressed grave concerns about the deaths of civilians in such operations.

Fintor reiterated that position, which was last expressed by the White House and the State Department earlier this month after eight people, including a pregnant woman and a 13-year-old boy, were killed in one such incursion.

“We again call on the Israeli Defence Forces to undertake all possible measures to avoid harm to civilians,” he said.

On March 4, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the United States continued to support Israel’s right to crack down on extremists in self-defence but urged it to curtail actions that harmed innocent people.

“It is important for Israel to act in a way that is reflective of the needs and the legitimate aspirations of the innocent,” he said. “We have concerns about actions that go beyond and that bring harm to the innocent, including innocent Palestinians.” (AFP)