- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 24, 2002

JERUSALEM Israeli troops fatally shot a U.N. official during a West Bank firefight with Palestinian gunmen, Israeli army officials said yesterday, because he had what appeared to be a gun and because Palestinians were firing at troops from inside the U.N. compound.
The United Nations disputed the army's claim, denying Palestinian gunmen were in the U.N. compound and saying the slain official, Iain John Hook, was armed only with a cell phone he was using to try to evacuate U.N. staff.
A report on Israeli army radio said a soldier mistook the cell phone for a hand grenade.
The army released its preliminary findings into the gunfight Friday in the Jenin refugee camp, saying Palestinian gunmen used the U.N. compound as cover to fire at Israeli troops searching for a wanted militant.
Iain Hook, a British senior manager of UNRWA, the U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees, was killed inside the compound the first senior U.N. official to die in more than two years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
The dispute over his death was likely to inflame long-strained relations between Israel and the United Nations. U.N. resolutions paved the way for creating the Jewish state in 1948, but relations have been poisoned for much of the time since then.
The army findings were released during fresh violence in which two Palestinian militants blew themselves up on an explosives-packed boat off the Gaza Strip, injuring four Israeli soldiers on a nearby navy patrol boat in a rare sea attack. The militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.
Israel also pressed its occupation of the West Bank town of Bethlehem, retaken Friday after a suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem killed 11 persons, including four children. Israeli troops demolished four homes of militants, arrested 26 persons and searched the office of Bethlehem's governor, witnesses said.
Israel army radio reported that an initial investigation into Mr. Hook's death showed that an Israeli soldier shot him as he came out of an alley from where Palestinian gunmen had been firing earlier, mistaking a cell phone he was carrying for a hand grenade.
An army statement released later yesterday said two soldiers fired at Mr. Hook inside the U.N. compound because he had "an object that appeared to be a gun."
The statement said Palestinian gunmen had fired on Israeli troops from inside the UNRWA compound and, on seven occasions, from an adjacent alley. The gunmen twice had used civilians as human shields, the army said.
Paul McCann, a U.N. spokesman, said the army's claim that gunmen were inside the compound was wrong.
"It, in fact, is quite clear from our inquiry so far that this report of firing from the compound is totally incredible," he said.
Mr. Hook, he added, had been on his cell phone in the moments before he was shot, trying to arrange for the evacuation of U.N. personnel from the compound.
The Palestinian leadership yesterday decided to award Mr. Hook a medal, and Yasser Arafat sent a letter of condolence to Mr. Hook's family.
During the funeral of an 11-year-old Palestinian boy also killed in the Jenin clashes, about 2,000 mourners marched through the refugee camp yesterday, carrying an empty coffin draped with a U.N. flag in memorial to Mr. Hook.


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