Israeli army bulldozer kills American 'human shield'

By Eric Silver,In Jerusalem
Monday 17 March 2003 01:00

An Israeli army bulldozer ran over and killed an American female peace protester who was trying to stop troops destroying a Palestinian house in a Gaza refugee camp.

Rachel Corrie, aged 23 from Washington state, died instantly of a fractured skull, and chest and abdominal injuries yesterday, according to the administrator of the hospital in Rafah, Dr Ali Moussa.

The killing was the first of a foreign "human shield" in 29 months of fighting. Nicholas Durie, aged 19, from Dundee, was one of four British and four American campaigners who tried to block two bulldozers destroying homes and farming infrastructure near an olive grove. "We were trying to frustrate their efforts by getting in front of the bulldozers," he told The Independent by telephone from the hospital. "One of the drivers saw Rachel and drove towards her. She didn't get out of the way, and he didn't stop.

"She was carried up with a heap of earth in the shovel of the bulldozer. The driver continued working. She slipped and fell and was run over by the bulldozer. The driver saw that she had fallen, but carried her along for another 16 feet. Only then did he back off."

One of the American activists, Greg Schnabel, 28, from Chicago, said Ms Corrie waved for the bulldozer to stop. After she fell down, he added, "we yelled 'stop, stop', and the bulldozer didn't stop at all." Mr Schnabel alleged that the bulldozer deliberately ran back over her, but Mr Durie said that was not so.

Although the crew of an Israeli tank accompanying the bulldozers fired a smoke grenade, Mr Durie said the protesters photographed the incident, including the bulldozer's army licence number.

Israeli military sources said they regretted the killing, but complained: "We're dealing with a group of protesters who put themselves and everyone else in danger in a combat zone." The army said it was checking the details. A senior American diplomat in Tel Aviv declined to say anything.

Saeb Erakat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, said last night: "Rachel died doing what world governments have failed to do – protecting defenceless civilians. We are indebted to Rachel not only for her bravery and integrity, but for the principled message of non-violent resistance she advocated."

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, took his Cabinet on a tour of the security fence Israel is building between the West Bank and Israel yesterday. He is preparing a critical response to the "road-map" towards a Palestinian state that President George Bush promised to publish as soon as Yasser Arafat appointed a Prime Minister. The liberal daily Ha'aretz reported that Israel would try to delete the term "independent state" and replace it with "certain attributes of sovereignty".

Mr Arafat is expected to confirm Mahmoud Abbas (better known as Abu Mazen) as Prime Minister soon, but is reported to be trying to restrict his powers.The Bush administration has been boycotting Mr Arafat for the past year.

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