Israeli forces shoot Palestinian boy dead as he plays football

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

The Independent

02 July 2004

A nine-year-old Palestinian boy was shot dead by Israeli forces yesterday as he played football, local residents said after armoured vehicles once again entered the southern Gaza town of Rafah.

Omar Za'ran was pronounced dead at Rafah hospital, after he was brought in from the Brazil section of the town's refugee camp. Bashir Abu Jlidan, 18, said: "We were playing soccer when Israeli tanks ... started firing inside the camp and towards us." He said that the boy had fallen to the ground, bleeding.

Palestinian sources said a force of 15 armoured vehicles backed by Apache helicopters had entered the town. The army said it was a mission to find and destroy tunnels used by militants to smuggle weapons. It added that it was still checking on reports of the boy's death.

The army, which was still operating in Rafah last night, said it had discovered the shaft of a tunnel under abandoned stores near the Brazil camp. The Palestinian sources said that the force had begun to destroy houses in the area.

Meanwhile, witnesses said that Israeli helicopters had fired two missiles into Beit Hanoun, an area in northern Gaza, injuring several people, one critically. The attacks occurred in an area believed to be close to where militants were planting bombs.

Beit Hanoun has been encircled by Israeli tanks in a military offensive launched on Tuesday to stop repeats of arocket attack on the Israeli town of Sderot a day earlier, which killed two Israelis, including a three-year-old boy.

Israeli military bulldozers began destroying olive groves and orchards in Beit Hanoun yesterday to strip militants of cover. Israeli military sources have said that troops could remain there for months to stop rocket attacks.

And in a third Gaza incident, Israeli military sources said last night that at least one Palestinian gunman had been shot dead after a group of militants were identified by an army patrol protecting the Jewish settlement of Netzarim.

Earlier yesterday Israeli forces launched a raid into the normally quiet West Bank town of Jericho. The army said that it had arrested 30 wanted Palestinians and had found weapons, including rifles and grenades.