- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank An Italian photographer was killed by machine-gun fire from an Israeli tank yesterday in the West Bank, becoming the first foreign journalist to die in crossfire since the Palestinian uprising began September 2000.
After chasing off Palestinian civilians, Israeli tanks patrolled the largely deserted streets of Ramallah yesterday and engaged in sporadic firefights with bands of Palestinian gunmen. A senior Palestinian security officer and an Israeli soldier also were killed.
The action in Ramallah was a continuation of Israel's 2-week-old military offensive. Army Chief Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz told a parliamentary committee that about 20,000 Israeli soldiers are now stationed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Many Israelis favor the tough action against the Palestinians initiated by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, including the current mission in refugee camps and Ramallah, described as the largest Israeli military operation since its 1982 invasion of Lebanon. But in a stormy Cabinet session yesterday, Mr. Sharon and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer argued over how to conduct the operations, Israeli media reported.
Mr. Sharon said the Cabinet had agreed that Israel should continue its military pressure on the Palestinians for now, and accused Mr. Ben-Eliezer of unilaterally halting a number of military operations in Ramallah, the reports said, adding that the defense minister threatened to resign at one point.
Dozens of Israeli tanks that drove into Ramallah early Tuesday enforced a curfew yesterday in the deserted streets. In several locations, including downtown Manara Square, there were fierce gunbattles.
In one exchange, Fuad Obeidy, the deputy commander of the Palestinian security service Force 17, was killed by Israeli tank fire, doctors said. A 21-year-old Israeli soldier also was killed.
Italian free-lance photographer Raffaele Ciriello, 42, was killed near Manara Square. A witness, fellow journalist Amedeo Ricucci, said he and his colleague were following Palestinian gunmen when an Israeli tank appeared from around the corner and, without warning, fired a machine gun from about 150 yards, striking Mr. Ciriello in the stomach.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Olivier Rafowicz expressed regret at the death, but declined to discuss the circumstances until more information was gathered. "There has been crossfire for several days and we don't know where he has been killed," he said.
A French photographer working in Ramallah was injured by shrapnel from an explosive device that went off near a group of journalists, witnesses said. In recent fighting, Palestinian gunmen have often placed homemade bombs near Israeli tanks.
About 20 armed Israeli troops searched the seven-story building that houses the Associated Press office in Ramallah, occupying the office for several minutes. Soldiers then took positions on another floor upstairs, taking some Palestinian fire. Seven AP staff members later left the building safely, and the soldiers remained. The army promised to leave the building.
Israeli tanks also surrounded Ramallah Hospital, keeping ambulances away, said Dr. Moussa Abu Hmeid, the head of emergency departments in West Bank Hospitals.
He also said Israeli troops cut off water and electricity to the hospital.
The Israeli military denied it was preventing people from reaching the hospital and said soldiers had inadvertently interrupted the supply of water and electricity and were coordinating with the Palestinians to repair the damage.
More than 160 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and almost 60 have been killed on the Israeli side since the beginning of this month.


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