Israel destroys smuggling tunnel after reporter films operation

Sunday, May 4, 2003

JERUSALEM -- Israel destroyed a weapons-smuggling tunnel in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, hours after a British journalist was killed filming the operation. A Palestinian youth was also shot after troops returned fire at a crowd throwing hand grenades and fire bombs, the army said.

Meanwhile, a militant group that claimed partial responsibility for a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv last week said it would not obey the new Palestinian prime minister's demands to end its violence.

Israel's top military chief, in turn, said the military would not halt its raids against Palestinian militants until Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas disarms them.

A crowd of Palestinians threw grenades and gasoline bombs at armored bulldozers preparing to destroy a weapons-smuggling tunnel discovered during Friday night's operation, the army said. The army returned fire, shooting a 17-year-old Palestinian youth.

The incident took place just hours after a freelance British video journalist James Miller was shot and killed by Israeli troops as his crew filmed the troops' search for weapons-smuggling tunnels in the city of Rafah on the Egyptian border late Friday night.

Associated Press Television footage showed the crew waving a white flag and yelling that they were British journalists as they approached an armored bulldozer conducting the operation.

Witnesses said an Israeli tank opened fire on the journalists, but the army denied tanks were in the area. Col. Avi, the forces commander in the area, who would only give his first name, said troops came under fire and returned fire.

It wasn't until the shooting stopped that the soldiers heard cries for help in English and saw people holding a flag and the journalist lying on the ground, the colonel said.

The local Foreign Press Association, the British Foreign Office, and the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders on Saturday called for investigations into the killing of Miller, a prize-winning documentary maker who had worked for CNN, the British Broadcasting Corp., Britain's Channel 4 and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

"We are deeply concerned over the recent increase in the killing and wounding of noncombatants by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza, and call on the military to address this terrible problem seriously and not sweep it under the rug," the Press Association said in a statement.

Miller was the fourth foreigner and the second journalist to be injured or killed by Israeli troops in the West Bank and Gaza in recent weeks.

Associated Press Television News cameraman Nazeh Darwazeh was killed on April 19 in the West Bank city of Nablus while filming clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians. Witnesses said Darwazeh was shot by an Israeli soldier. Witnesses said Darwazeh was shot by an Israeli soldier taking cover behind an armored vehicle in an alley. The military insisted there were also Palestinian gunmen in the alley.

Also Saturday, the militant group Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades -- one of the two groups to claim responsibility for a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed three Israelis last week -- said it would not lay down its arms despite Palestinian prime minister Abbas' pledge to disarm militant groups.

"We will not give up our weapons and we will not halt resistance," said the statement, faxed to The Associated Press on Saturday.

Disarming the militants is a key element of the so-called "road map" to peace, a three-year plan for Palestinian statehood unveiled by a quartet of international Mideast mediators, including the United States, on Wednesday after Abbas was sworn in. Phase I of the plan calls for both sides to immediately end violence against the other.

Militant groups have said they would only lay down their arms if Israel halted arrest raids and targeted killings of wanted Palestinians, a promise Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been unwilling to make.

British police arrested six people in central England and London in connection with the Tel Aviv suicide bombing believed to have been carried out by a British man.

Officers arrested two men and two women in Derbyshire and another woman in nearby Nottinghamshire on Friday, police said. Early Saturday they arrested a man in London.

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