Double killing fuels protests in Gaza Strip: Conditions worsen for Hamas deportees as Palestinian and Israeli leaders try to save peace process from collapse

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The Independent Online
TWO Palestinian brothers were shot dead by Israeli soldiers in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip yesterday, bringing the death toll in one town to a record 10 in five days.

As the curfew was lifted over half of Gaza, there were demonstrations outside mosques in support of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, and crowds marched on a police station shouting Allahu Akbar - God is most great.

Protests in the occupied territories intensified as demonstrators heard that the suffering of their banished friends, relatives and mentors appeared to be worsening. In their wintry exile in south Lebanon, the 418 deportees were yesterday without fresh water and short of food and medicine, while the Red Cross was barred by Israel and Lebanon from reaching them.

Nearly 200 of the deportees stranded are Hamas political organisers, ideologues or prayer leaders in Gaza. The rest held similar positions in the West Bank.

Yesterday's deaths in Gaza came as mourners in Khan Younis in the south of the strip, where the curfew was still

in place, defied it to hold wakes for eight people, including a girl who died during or as a result of clashes on Saturday after protests at the deportations.

Palestinians said the brothers, Ismail and Mohammed Abdeen, were standing on a roof watching scuffles below. Soldiers reportedly fired shots in the air to deter stone-throwers, hitting the men by mistake.

The Army said the men had been endangering the soldiers' lives. But with the rising Palestinian death toll, suspicion has been growing that the Army may have loosened its firing regulations in preparation for pro-Hamas rallies.

Rana Abu Tyour, 10, was killed on Saturday as she set out to fetch milk during a curfew break. Her father, Ahmed Abu Tyour, said yesterday that she was shot by an Israeli soldier 25 metres away.

She bled to death in a muddy alley. Isa al-Farra said: 'I saw Rana walking down the alley. A soldier told her to go home. She argued and said she was going for milk. He knelt down and aimed. She turned to go, and as she did, she was shot.'

Without a solution to the deportees' plight, violence in Gaza and the West Bank is expected to continue. But Israel and Lebanon continued their stand-off yesterday while the Palestinians huddled in the rain and mud.

The chief delegate for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Bernard Pfefferle, who visited them yesterday, said: 'Winter has come. The situation is very hard, very harsh and very terrible.'

Zuheir Abdallah, a United Nations official on the scene, said conditions in the camp were intolerable. 'Their drinking water has run out. Now they are only getting water from the stream and boiling it.'

Abdul Aziz al Rantisisi, a paediatrician from Gaza, said: 'I am thirsty but I can't find water.' Water from the mountain snow was murky even after boiling, he said. But the deportees issued a statement declaring their continuing resilience and determination to stay 'until we can return to our families'.

Palestinian and Israeli leaders tried to hold together the shattered remnants of the Middle East peace process, suspended by the Palestinian leadership after the deportations.

Palestinian leaders from the occupied territories, who are directed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said in Jerusalem that although they believed the deportations had severely threatened the negotiations they had not finished them off. They appear deeply worried by the alternative to peace negotiations: rising chaos and growing support for Hamas.

A Hamas delegation arrived in Tunis yesterday for an unprecedented meeting at the PLO headquarters.

In Jerusalem, Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian delegation's spokeswoman, said the armed struggle remained the Palestinians' right if the peace process collapsed.

It is widely believed that the Palestinian team would support continuing negotiations - despite the deportations - as long as they thought they would win new concessions from Israel after talks resumed.

Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's Prime Minister, is under strong pressure from the left wing of his ruling Labour Party to open direct talks with Yasser Arafat and the PLO, who have shown themselves as moderate compared with Hamas. But there is no sign of any shift in Israeli thinking.