- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 22, 2004

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — A 3-year-old Palestinian girl was shot dead on her way to get candy yesterday as a senior U.N. official toured a battle-scarred refugee camp where Israeli troops continue the hunt for weapons-smuggling tunnels and militants.

In the West Bank, four persons were wounded by a Palestinian suicide bomber near an Israeli army checkpoint.

On Friday, Israeli troops pulled back from the Brazil and Tel Sultan neighborhoods of Rafah, leaving behind dozens of damaged or destroyed buildings, torn-up roads and flattened cars. The army said it was redeploying and that its offensive — aimed at capturing militants and uncovering tunnels that stretch across the nearby Egyptian border — would continue.

Peter Hansen, head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, visited the two areas yesterday. A few shops opened so residents could stock up, and people ventured tentatively outside, waving white flags and strips of cloth.

Despite the partial withdrawal of troops, bursts of automatic gunfire could be heard as Mr. Hansen toured a street littered with clothes, mattresses and the collapsed corrugated tin roofs of demolished houses.

“The human price has been extremely high for this operation,” Mr. Hansen said.

He said 1,650 Palestinians had been made homeless over the past 10 days of the operation. Municipal officials said at least 43 homes were demolished and dozens more damaged in the camp last week.

“I think that the destruction is probably even worse than I’ve seen … and is indeed completely, completely unacceptable,” Mr. Hansen said.

In Tel Sultan, where workers struggled to restore water and electricity and clear sewage from the streets, some angry residents refused to speak to the U.N. envoy.

“People want actions and not words,” said resident Sami Khateeb. “We don’t want food; all we need is to live like human beings; the world should feel our suffering; they should act to end this aggression.”

A mob of residents pounded on the U.N. envoy’s car and some threw stones at the convoy, Reuters news agency reported.

Forty-one Palestinians have been killed since “Operation Rainbow” began, including gunmen and eight demonstrators hit by the explosion of a tank shell during a protest march.

A 3-year-old girl was killed yesterday in the Brazil neighborhood while Mr. Hansen’s delegation was in the area. Relatives said Rawan Abu Zeid was killed by a gunshot to the head as she walked to a shop to buy candy.

The army said it had no reports of shots being fired in the area.

Overnight, tanks, jeeps and bulldozers moved into a sparsely populated area on the outskirts of the town of Rafah, next to the camp, witnesses and Palestinian security forces said.

A suicide bomber blew himself up at an Israeli army checkpoint east of the West Bank city of Nablus yesterday, wounding four persons, the Israeli military and paramedics said. Military sources said one soldier was slightly wounded and three Palestinians hurt, one seriously.

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