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Israeli army says it likely killed Palestinian boy

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- The Israeli army said Tuesday an internal investigation showed its troops apparently were responsible for killing a 12-year-old Palestinian boy whose televised death in Gaza shocked the world.

Mohammed al-Durra died in his father's arms after the two were trapped in Palestinian-Israeli cross-fire on a road near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in Palestinian-ruled Gaza Saturday.

"There was an investigation by the major-general of the southern command and apparently (the boy was killed by) Israeli army fire at the Palestinians who were attacking them violently with a great many petrol bombs, rocks and very massive fire," Giora Eiland, head of army operations, told Israel Radio.

Eiland said the soldiers were defending themselves in a street battle with Palestinian forces which often include civilians.

"This is not the first incident in which civilians were injured, but it has never been intentional ... . It is known that (Mohammed al-Durra) participated in stone-throwing in the past," Eiland added.

Reporters watched helplessly Saturday as the boy and his father crouched behind a small concrete block for cover as bullets rained around them.

Mohammed wept, cowering behind his father, who tried to shield him with his arms. Both of them screamed in fear.

Some time later, both were shot. Mohammed, dead, lay slumped in the lap of his father, who sat upright and rocked gently backward. The father survived, but was badly wounded.

In the wrong place at the wrong time

The Israeli army's head of the southern command, Yom Tov Samya, said the boy should not have been at the flashpoint junction in the first place.

"There was much shooting at that minute at the junction from five or six different directions ... . (Why was) a 12-year-old two meters from a Palestinian position firing heavy weapons on the (Israeli) post?" Samya said.

But he agreed that father and son, caught between a Palestinian and an Israeli position, may have been shot by Israelis.

"It could very much be -- this is an estimation -- that a soldier in our position, who has a very narrow field of vision, saw somebody hiding behind a cement block in the direction from which he was being fired at, and he shot in that direction."

Samya said Israeli soldiers had shown restraint in the face of thousands of Palestinian rioters during six days of fierce clashes that erupted after Israeli right-winger Ariel Sharon visited a holy site in Jerusalem which is sacred to Jews and Muslims.

At least 50 people, most of them Palestinians, have been killed in the violence, leading Palestinian officials to accuse the Israeli military of committing a massacre.

Sharon, asked about the boy's death in an interview Tuesday with the U.S. television network CBS, described the footage of the shooting as "very hard to see" and "a real tragedy."

"But the one that should be blamed is only the one ... that really instigated all those activities, and that is Yasser Arafat," said Sharon.

The former defense chief, reviled by Arabs for orchestrating Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, has repeatedly denied his visit to the shrine Muslims call Al-Haram al-Sharif and Jews revere as the Temple Mount made him responsible for the violence.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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