Indelible image of Palestinian fireman killed by shrapnel - Independent, UK
- Indelible image of Palestinian fireman killed by
By Justin Huggler in Jabalya, Gaza Strip
07 March 2003
The image was indelible. The Palestinian fireman who a
moment before had stood fearlessly in the open as the
gunfire echoed, aiming a hose at a building in flames,
crumpling to the ground as shrapnel burst all around
him. That was the unforgettable scene of yesterday's
Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip, the death of
Naji Abu Jalili as he tried to douse a burning
Eleven Palestinians died in the incursion yesterday
morning, eight when the shrapnel flew across Jerusalem
Street in Jabalya and in the moments after, as
repeated bursts of machine-gun fire were fired at the
crowds. Among them was at least one child, Thaer
Rihan, 14. More than 100 people were wounded, doctors
Most witnesses told the same story: that the first
burst of shrapnel that cut down the fireman, Mr Abu
Jalili, came from an Israeli tank. They said it fired
a shell packed with flechettes, arrow-shaped pieces of
metal designed to inflict mass casualties, straight at
the fireman, and that the flechettes and shrapnel
ripped through a crowd watching from an alley
opposite. And that the tank fired its machine-gun on
crowds of people trying to rescue the wounded.
That was what Kemal al-Madhun, the fireman who was
standing behind Mr Abu Jalili as he fell, described.
"They targeted us," he said, his voice straining under
the pain from his back, which was hit by shrapnel in
several places. "We were about to put the fire out
when they shot at us."
The Israeli army said the tank had fired at a
Palestinian militant aiming a rocket-propelled grenade
at it, and that the resulting explosion had killed Mr
Abu Jalili and others.
There were also Israeli claims that the Palestinian
casualties were caused by a booby trap in the
furniture store intended to kill Israeli soldiers. The
Israelis said every care had been taken to avoid
However, from the television footage it was clear that
the shrapnel which killed the fireman did not come
from the furniture store, but from an entirely
different direction. Nor was there evidence of a large
blast at the furniture store: the large iron doors
were still intact and hanging from the hinges.
What the television footage appeared to show was that
the tank had fired in the direction of the fireman and
the civilians near him. Slowed down, you could see how
the shrapnel flew in one direction, over, around,
through the fireman, bursting as it hit the road.
Then the machine-gun fire began. All the fire came
from the same end of the street as the first burst of
shrapnel, and Palestinians fled from it which meant
it was almost certainly Israeli fire. The gun opened
up again and again. When it had been silent for a
while and the civilians crept towards the fire, it
opened up again, sending them running in panic.
The Israeli government said the incursion was part of
a continuing operation against militants in the Gaza
Strip an operation in which many unarmed people have
Mark Sofer, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official, said
Israel "believed" all the dead were militants. That
was clearly not the case: the fireman's death was on
film and the recording also showed a crowd of
civilians under fire, many of them badly injured.
Hamad Jadallah, a wounded Reuters cameraman, was seen
being carried from the scene he had been trying to
film, screaming in agony, his trouser legs wet with
"The raid in Jabalya was carried out well after
midnight when the only people roaming the streets are
Palestinian killers," Mr Sofer claimed. But the
fireman and seven others were killed at about 6.30am,
when many Palestinian children were on the streets.
But Palestinian claims that there were no militants at
the scene were untrue. Several were clearly visible in
the film, their faces masked, weapons in hand. But
none of those on the film were firing their weapons,
or even aiming them.
Three Palestinians were killed in the middle of the
night, when Israeli tanks swept into the Jabalya
refugee camp at the beginning of the incursion. The
army insisted the operation was part of a continuing
crackdown against militants.
By dawn, most of the tanks had withdrawn. But
helicopters remained overhead. A fire broke out at a
furniture store on the street. The exact circumstances
under which it started are not clear. The owner of the
building, Faiz Saleh, said he heard an explosion. Mr
Madhun, the fireman who survived, said he saw a
helicopter fire in the vicinity of the store.
A short while later, the firemen were called. Mr
Madhun sketched out the scene on a piece of paper.
When they arrived, there was an Israeli tank standing
at one end of the street in the exact spot the fire
that killed Mr Abu Jalili came from. A crowd of
Palestinian children had gathered and were throwing
stones at it.
The firemen parked their fire engine in a side street
where they thought it was safe, then took out the
hose. Mr Abu Jalili went first, then Mr Madhun, then
the driver. "Naji told me to let go of the hose and
let him take it," said Mr Madhun. "I turned my back
and then the tank fired. If he had not said that I
would have gone forward, it would have been me who
All the above description matched the film. The
fireman also said he saw two dead children near the
fire engine. We were able to find the family of one
dead 14-year-old. Doctors said there were two others.
Late last night, witnesses said that Israeli tanks,
accompanied by attack helicopters, had approached the
refugee camp again for the second time in as many
days. The Israeli military would say only that an
operation was in progress.
Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, has asked
Mahmoud Abbas, a senior Palestine Liberation
Organisation official, to be the Palestinian
Authority's Prime Minister. Ahmed Korei, the
Palestinian Legislative Council speaker, said that the
nomination would be approved in deliberations starting
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