Palestinian girl of four shot dead as Rafah toll rises to 43

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The Independent Online

A four-year-old Palestinian girl was shot dead yesterday in a ravaged Rafah refugee camp as some of its destroyed homes were being visited by a senior UN official on a fraught trip to the town.

A four-year-old Palestinian girl was shot dead yesterday in a ravaged Rafah refugee camp as some of its destroyed homes were being visited by a senior UN official on a fraught trip to the town.

Rawan abu-Zeid could not be resuscitated at a local hospital after she received two bullets in her head and neck during sporadic shooting in the Brazil refugee camp. Israeli forces had withdrawn some - but by no means all - of its forces from the camp on Friday. The shooting bought the Palestinian death toll in Rafah to 43 since the present operation began last Monday.

The shooting came hours before a UN convoy admitted to the even more stricken Tel Sultan camp in the Gaza Strip town was forced to turn back after being besieged by a desperate crowd of residents trapped there since Israeli tanks moved in.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) convoy headed by Peter Hansen, its secretary-general, was finally admitted to the camp with a truckload of urgently needed milk powder yesterday afternoon, after some hours of negotiations with the Israelis.

But as it entered Tel Sultan it was surrounded by what an UNRWA spokesman said later were "huge mobs" of "angry and hungry people", making it impossible to transfer the milk powder to local volunteers to distribute. The spokesman said the situation was so volatile that the convoy was forced to turn back.

Earlier, the dead girl's uncle, Khader abu-Zeid, said that she had taken half a shekel from her father and left the house to go to a shop. Noting that Israeli snipers had been operating in the area, he said: "When she left the house there was heavy shooting and we found her on the ground with two bullets in her neck and head." Confirming the location of the bullets, Dr Ahmed abu Nkaira, the hospital's deputy director, said the wounds were consistent with shots fired from a range of between 300 and 400 metres.

Although the Israeli army said initially there was no record of shooting in the area at the time, volleys of gunfire were clearly audible within the Brazil camp during the morning. The army said last night that it was still looking into the incident.

Earlier Mr Hansen, who paid a brief visit to the site of homes razed by bulldozers during the heaviest 27-hour phase of the Israeli army's incursion into the Brazil camp, condemned the demolitions as "completely unacceptable". At least 40 residential buildings in three camps along the heavily guarded Israeli-Egyptian border are estimated to have been bulldozed so far.

Around 2,000 people are thought to have been made homeless in Rafah over the past 10 days. Mr Hansen warned that international donors were increasingly reluctant to allocate funds for replacement homes because of the Israeli demolitions. He told reporters that UNRWA had planned 800 new homes, of which 400 had been completed. But he added: "We feel quite clearly outpaced by the rates of destruction."

The apparently random destruction of homes in the refugee camps has continued to dismay the relief agencies, who question its relevance to the hunt for tunnels used to smuggle weapons under Gaza's border with Egypt. While not challenging the existence of such tunnels, Mr Hansen said that some of the homes destroyed were as much as 4km from the borders and therefore unusable to disguise tunnels.

* Four Palestinians and one Israeli soldier were injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint in the northern Jordan Valley near Nablus.

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