A group of international peace activists has disputed a claim by Israel that an American who was trying to block the path of an Israeli bulldozer in a Gaza refugee camp was crushed accidentally.
The International Solidarity Movement said yesterday that Rachel Corrie was in the line of vision of the bulldozer's driver on Sunday as she stood in his path to try to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in the Rafah camp.
"When the bulldozer refused to stop or turn aside she climbed up on to the mound of dirt and rubble being gathered in front of it ... to look directly at the driver who kept on advancing," the group said in a statement.
The Israeli army said her death was an accident. It said the driver's vision was restricted because the bulldozer cab had small windows.
Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, said he had contacted Ms Corrie's family to express his condolences. "Our people embrace her and offer her our blessings," he said.
Ms Corrie's parents are travelling to Rafah, where she will be cremated, said Charles Smith, a member of the International Solidarity Movement. Her father, Craig Corrie said: "Rachel was proud, and we are proud of Rachel that she was able to live with her convictions. Rachel was filled with a love and sense of duty to our fellow man, wherever they lived, and she gave her life trying to protect those that could not protect themselves."
About 200 Palestinians and foreigners attended a memorial service for Ms Corrie at the United Nations offices in Gaza City yesterday. Four girls placed a picture of her and flowers on an empty coffin, and mourners observed a moment of silence.
Mr Smith, who witnessed Ms Corrie's death, said the incident began when she sat down in front of the bulldozer. He said the driver scooped her up with a pile of earth, dumped her on the ground and ran over her twice. Mr Smith said Ms Corrie was dressed in a bright orange jacket with reflective stripes. The group said in its statement: "The bulldozer continued to advance so that she was pulled under the pile of dirt and rubble. After she had disappeared from view the driver kept advancing until the bulldozer was completely on top of her." Protesters have stopped bulldozers in the past by sitting down in front of them, Mr Smith said.
Ms Corrie's friends gathered around her body before she was taken to Rafah hospital. Pictures of Ms Corrie, her head covered in a traditional Muslim headscarf, were published on the front pages of Israeli newspapers yesterday. She wore a headscarf when working among the Palestinians, Mr Smith said.
A photograph of Ms Corrie taken last month shows her in the centre of a large demonstration, burning a US flag made of paper.
The International Solidarity Movement has been prominent in its protests against Israeli military operations during the past 29 months of violence. Last March, members of the group holed up in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity during a military siege and made their way into Mr Arafat's compound when the army blockaded his Ramallah headquarters.
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