Israel shifts to live bullets

Assassinations and gunfire into mobs take rising Arab toll

Suzanne Goldenberg in Jerusalem
Guardian Unlimited (UK), Tuesday November 28, 2000

Israeli troops are  making  increasing  use  of  live  ammunition
against Palestinian protesters, according to an  internal  United
Nations report obtained by the Guardian.

Live fire now exceeds rubber-coated steel bullets, it  says,  and
this has driven up casualties  during  the  past  two  months  of
communal conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The finding has emerged from a study of  Palestinian  deaths  and
injuries by the policy unit of the UN Relief and Works Agency for
Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). It has charted  a  steady  rise  in
injuries from live fire since October 1,  three  days  after  the
start of the Palestinian uprising, and a parallel decline in  the
use of rubber-coated bullets.

Since November 15 - the anniversary of a symbolic declaration  of
Palestinian independence which saw 10 Arabs shot dead by  Israeli
forces in the West Bank and Gaza -  the  use  of  live  fire  has
exceeded rubber bullets. Last week, 70%-80%  of  all  Palestinian
injuries were caused by live bullets, the report says.

The  study's  other  findings  are  in  line  with  reports  from
international human rights organisations which  document  Israeli
troops targetting the head and upper body, a  policy  blamed  for
the casualty figures: more than  280  dead  in  two  months,  and
nearly 9,000 injured, almost all Palestinian.

The UNRWA report, which is based on statistics  provided  by  the
Palestinian Red Crescent Society, also notes  the  many  children
among the dead - 28% aged below 16.

The graph also indicates that on several days there was no use of
rubber bullets before a resort to live ammunition.

Last week, the journalist Amira Hass published a chilling account
of a day in the life of an Israeli sharpshooter in  the  Ha'aretz
newspaper. The high velocity bullets used by the Israeli  snipers
break up inside the body.

"Every day before we  go  out  they  define  the  principles  for
opening fire," the sniper told Ha'aretz. "This also changes  from
place  to  place."  Commanders  loosened  restrictions  after   a
Palestinian mob hacked and burned two Israeli reservists to death
in Ramallah on October 12, the man said.

"After the lynch, for example, the orders for opening  fire  were
far more lenient than they had been the day before."

The unnamed sniper added: "Every time, after there is  a  serious
incident, it's political, you can feel it."

But he also said that commanders often  held  back  trigger-happy
conscripts, and were terrified of  shooting  children  after  the
outpouring of condemnation of the killing of Mohammed  al-Durreh,
a Gaza boy shot dead in his father's arms in front of TV cameras.
"You don't shoot at a child  who  is  12  or  younger,"  he  told
Ha'aretz. "Twelve and up is allowed. He is not a child any  more,
he is already after his bar mitzvah."

The UN made  its  findings  available  on  the  day  when  George
Mitchell, a former US senator who  was  a  key  mediator  in  the
Northern Ireland accord, formally started work on a  fact-finding
commission looking into the violence. He is to submit his  report
in March.

The UN human rights chief, Mary Robinson, yesterday spoke out  in
favour of an international monitoring body for  the  region  -  a
demand Israel categorically rejects.

"The  thrust  of  the  [UNRWA]   report   is   urgently   calling
international attention to the bleak human  rights  situation  in
occupied territories," Ms Robinson said in Geneva yesterday.  She
called  for  "measures  to  be  taken  to  reduce  the   terrible
violence".

Israeli army officials argue that soldiers have  been  forced  to
use live fire by Arab gunmen who hide among crowds  of  civilians
and children.

Earlier this month, an army legal expert, Colonel Daniel Reisner,
said: "The current situation has more of a semblance of war  than
of peace," and "as a result, we are also applying the  principles
applicable to warfare."

According to him, the main change of strategy has been to  target
and assassinate men Israel accuses of leading militias that  have
attacked its soldiers and settlers.

Guardian Unlimited (c) Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000