Five unarmed Palestinians killed at Gaza-Israel fence

Friday, December 13, 2002

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli soldiers shot and killed five unarmed Palestinians who tried to infiltrate Israel from Gaza, the military said Thursday, and in the West Bank, two Israeli soldiers were shot and killed in the tense city of Hebron.

Israeli soldiers believed the five men killed overnight at the border intended to carry out a terror attack, but no weapons or explosives were found, leading to speculation that they were sneaking into Israeli territory in order to find work. Grinding poverty in Gaza has been exacerbated by 26 months of fighting. The dead were not immediately identified.

Also Thursday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed two other Palestinians, including one who was trying to break into a Jewish settlement in Gaza, the military said. The radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine took responsibility. Soldiers killed the second Palestinian just after he entered Israel from Gaza, the military said.

In Hebron, Palestinian gunmen shot and killed two Israeli soldiers at an army outpost not far from the place where 12 Israeli soldiers and guards were killed in an ambush last month, the army said. A female soldier was killed instantly and a male soldier died on the way to a Jerusalem hospital, rescue officials said.

Elsewhere Thursday, Marwan Barghouti, the leader of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank, heard the Tel Aviv District Court rule that it has jurisdiction to try him on terrorism charges. Barghouti, the highest-ranking Palestinian official in Israeli custody, insists he is a politician with no role in violence.

The bodies of the five Palestinians killed at the border fence were found after daybreak.

Soldiers reported opening fire overnight at five Palestinians who were apparently trying to cross into Israel. The Palestinians carried no weapons, but had brought two ladders with them, apparently planning to climb over the barbed-wire fence that separates Gaza from Israel. Soldiers patrol the fence routinely.

Israeli media speculated that the five men had risked their lives to sneak into Israel to find work. Israel once provided work for more than 100,000 Palestinians in Gaza, but most lost their jobs after rigid security restrictions were put in place.

Unemployment in Gaza is well over 50 percent, and many families depend on U.N. food handouts. Palestinians say the Israeli restrictions are meant to wreck their economy and force them to surrender.

Barghouti was a main leader of the Palestinian uprising before he was captured by Israeli soldiers in April. In the Tel Aviv court, the judges rejected Barghouti's challenge to their jurisdiction, ruling that they have the authority to try terrorism cases. Judge Zvi Garfinkel threw out Barghouti's contention that he should be treated as a prisoner of war.

"Terror is not an act of war, and therefore it doesn't fall within the rules of war," said the judge. Barghouti is charged with complicity in terror attacks that killed 26 Israelis.

Barghouti has insisted on representing himself to emphasize his refusal to recognize the validity of the trial. However, several lawyers have joined the case on his behalf.

One of them, Jawad Boulos, said Thursday that Barghouti might appeal the court's ruling. If so, the lawyers would continue to offer their services. Otherwise, he told Army Radio, "We don't see ourselves continuing in this show."

In the run-up to Israel's Jan. 28 general election, meanwhile, the dovish Meretz bloc approved the addition of two disaffected peace activists from Labor, Yossi Beilin and Yael Dayan, to their list of candidates. They quit Labor after they were shunted to low positions in Monday's Labor primary and were not likely to be elected to the parliament.

A poll in the Haaretz daily predicted that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would easily retain his job, with his hardline Likud Party more than doubling its strength in the parliament with about 41 seats, while Labor dropped from 26 to about 21 of the 120 seats. Hawkish parties that could ally with Sharon would give him a clear majority over the moderates, the poll showed, but Sharon has said he would prefer a broad-based government with the moderate Labor instead.

The Dialogue poll in Haaretz questioned 597 Israelis and quoted a 4 percent margin of error.

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