Israeli troops seize two wounded Palestinians from intensive care unit

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The Independent Online

Israeli undercover troops stormed a Nablus hospital before dawn yesterday and snatched two wounded Palestinian gunmen from their beds in the intensive care unit. They imposed a curfew and transferred them by military ambulance to a Tel Aviv hospital, where they were being held under close guard.

Witnesses said three vans stopped outside the hospital at about 3am. Soldiers disguised as vegetable merchants said they had come to deliver supplies. When a guard opened the main gate, other soldiers, accompanied by dogs, raced into the hospital. They smashed the door to intensive care.

The gunmen, Othman Yunis, 27, and Fahid Bani-Odeh, 25, had been shot in an exchange of fire on the roof of the Rafidiyeh hospital last Friday. A third militant was killed in that gun battle. They were members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, loyal to Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian President.

Israel accused Mr Yunis, the brigades' commander in the West Bank town's Balata refugee camp, of orchestrating attacks in which at least 10 Israelis were killed. The most recent was a suicide bombing, which killed a civilian in the Israeli town of Rosh Ha'ayin on 11 August in the middle of the Palestinian ceasefire. Arab medical staff said that Mr Yunis suffered stomach injuries, while Mr Bani-Odeh had chest wounds and a broken right arm. Both had been on respirators until Monday. Wafa Abu Nawi, a nurse on night shift, told The Independent that the soldiers forced her and a male colleague into a corner and posted a dog to keep them there.

"They had pictures of the two men," she said. "They checked their names, and then took them away. The men refused to answer their questions. When I tried to intervene, one of the soldiers hit me."

Dr Husam Jawaheri, the hospital's medical director, accused Israel of breaching the Geneva Convention. "This raid means patients will not feel safe in this hospital any more," he said. "It is totally unjustifiable. We are doctors, not policemen. We give our services to human beings, whoever they are."

Captain Jacob Dalal, an Israeli army spokesman, said that because of Mr Yunis's seniority in the al-Aqsa Brigades he had to be arrested as soon as possible. "We needed to find out about future attacks they might by planning and about the cell he commanded," he added. He insisted that the men's health had not been compromised. By the time they were taken, the spokesman said, they were in "moderate" condition. They were driven straight to an Israeli hospital in an intensive care ambulance.

In Gaza last night, Israeli helicopter gunships fired five missiles at a car carrying two Hamas fighters near the Shati refugee camp. Palestinian doctors said the missiles missed their target, but a passer-by was killed and others wounded. Abu Mazen, the Palestinian Prime Minister, left the West Bank for Gaza yesterday. He is due to meet leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in an attempt to persuade them to restore the unilateral ceasefire.