JERUSALEM/GAZA: The Israeli military said yesterday it was investigating the apparent killing by its troops of a Palestinian nurse on Friday during protests along the Gaza border. Health officials and witnesses said Israeli forces shot dead 21-year-old Razan Al-Najjar, a volunteer medic, as she ran towards the border fence, east of the south Gaza city of Khan Younis, in a bid to reach a casualty. The Israeli military said Palestinian militants had attacked its troops along the border with gunfire and a grenade. In a written statement yesterday, the military said it would investigate Najjar’s death.
Thousands of people attended Najjar’s funeral in Gaza yesterday, including some she had treated when they were wounded at previous border protests. Her body was wrapped in a Palestinian flag and carried through the streets on a stretcher by mourners. “With our souls and blood we redeem you martyr Razan,” cried mourners as the body was brought to her home for a last farewell before burial. Residents said Najjar was a popular figure at the protest sites and pictures depicting her as an angel circulated on Palestinian social media.
Her death brought to 119 the number of Palestinians killed in weekly demonstrations launched on March 30 in the Gaza Strip, an enclave controlled by the Islamist group Hamas and long subject to grinding Israeli and Egyptian embargoes. The UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov said on Twitter: “Medical workers are #NotATarget!” “#Israel needs to calibrate its use of force and Hamas need to prevent incidents at the fence. Escalation only costs more lives,” he added.
Israel has drawn international condemnation for its use of deadly force during the mass demonstrations. It says many of those killed were Hamas members and militants trying to launch attacks under cover of the protests. The Palestinians say most of the dead and the thousands wounded were unarmed civilians against whom Israel was using excessive force. In a statement published by the Palestinian official news Agency Wafa on Friday, Health Minister Jawad Awwad condemned Najjar’s killing and said it violated international law.
The Israeli military said in its statement: “The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) constantly works to draw operational lessons and reduce the number of casualties in the area of the Gaza Strip security fence. Unfortunately, the Hamas terror organization deliberately and methodically places civilians in danger.” The protests, dubbed the “Great March of Return” have seen thousands gather to demand the right of return to their families’ lost homes or lands, now in Israel. Israel rules that out, concerned it would lose its Jewish majority. Two-thirds of the two million Palestinians in Gaza are war refugees or their descendants.
Separately, Palestinian man who tried to hit Israeli soldiers with a small tractor in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron was shot dead, the army said. “The 35-year-old terrorist from Beit Ummar, northwest of Hebron, attempted to run over an (Israeli military) officer and soldier with a small Bobcat tractor,” the army said, correcting an earlier statement saying the alleged assailant was driving a car. The troops ordered the driver to halt, but “the terrorist turned around and continued driving with the intention to attack nearby civilians,” it said in a statement.
A soldier on a nearby roof who saw what was happening then “fired at the terrorist, who was killed”, it said. Neither the Israeli army nor Palestinian officials published the alleged attacker’s name. Hebron, in the southern West Bank, is the only Palestinian city in the territory containing a Jewish community, comprising several hundred Israeli settlers under heavy military guard among some 200,000 Palestinians. – Agencies