- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

A 23-year-old American peace activist was killed Sunday, struck by a bulldozer she was trying to stop as it destroyed a house in a Palestinian refugee camp in Rafah, witnesses and medical sources said.

The Palestine Monitor, a non-governmental organization, identified the woman as Rachel Corey, 23, of Washington state.

A doctor told Israeli media Corney ran in front of the bulldozer as it approached a house that it was to knock down. She was buried under sand and suffered head and chest injuries. She died at a hospital shortly after being taken there, the doctor said.

Palestinian sources said a group of foreign peace activists tried to challenge the bulldozer drivers and prevent them from destroying the building. They said the driver saw Corney but continued anyway.

The Israel Defense Forces denied the claim. Spokeswoman Brig. Gen. Ruth Yaron said in a statement the bulldozer driver did not see Corney. The bulldozer was armored, its windows are small, so "visibility was limited," the statement said.

The IDF said the activity was designed to clear vegetation near the Israeli-Egyptian border in order to expose hidden bombs.

The operation was "part of IDF activity against the threat of bombs and tunnels" the Palestinians dig under Israeli lines to smuggle arms from Egypt to the Gaza Strip. The army said the D-9 bulldozer was operating in an area that the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo accords define as an area of military operations where Israel has full civilian and security authority.

Dozens of demonstrators gathered in that area where movement is prohibited, the army spokeswoman said.

In order to avoid a clash, the forces pulled back but the bulldozer continued working.

"The demonstrators continued to approach the forces," the IDF statement said. "The forces repeatedly called upon them to disperse."

It said Corney's death was most likely an accident.

"From a preliminary examination, it transpires that an IDF bulldozer that worked there hit, in all probability, by mistake a woman … who approached the area of activities too closely," the statement said.

Another IDF spokesman called the protestors' actions "irresponsible."

"There is nothing wrong with legitimate protests, but this was simply dangerous and irresponsible," Capt. Jacob Dallal said. "This is a combat zone. We're really very sorry about that. It's very regrettable."

Foreign peace activists have been in Rafah for several months in an attempt to prevent Israeli demolition of Palestinian houses.

Military sources said Corney was part of a group that last year joined militants holed up in the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem and moved into Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah when Israeli troops surrounded it. Some of them were later expelled.


(Reported by Joshua Brilliant in Tel Aviv, Israel)

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