- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2004

JERUSALEM — A militant group offered an unusual apology yesterday for mistakenly killing an Arab college student in a drive-by shooting in a Jewish neighborhood, calling his family to offer their condolences and declaring him a “martyr.”

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a group linked to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, said it carried out Friday’s shooting, in which gunmen in a passing car shot the student twice in the head and once in the abdomen in Jerusalem. The group apologized yesterday after it turned out the victim was George Khoury, 21, the son of a prominent Arab attorney.

In more than three years of fighting, Palestinian militant groups have carried out scores of shootings and suicide bombings, killing hundreds of people, among them dozens of Arab citizens of Israel who were working, eating or riding buses along with Jewish Israelis when assailants struck.

In the same period, more than 2,700 people were killed on the Palestinian side.

But yesterday marked the first time a militant group apologized for mistakenly killing an Arab.

Zacariyya Zubeidi, head of an Al Aqsa cell in the West Bank town of Jenin and one of Israel’s most wanted men, said Mr. Khoury was a martyr, a distinction normally reserved for Palestinians killed in the conflict with Israel, including bombers and gunmen on suicide missions.

“The family remained angry, and it’s their right to be angry, but we consider him one of the many martyrs that fall every day,” Mr. Zubeidi said. “This is a war between us and Israel and it is natural for there to be accidental victims.”

For the slain man’s father, Elias Khoury, the killing brought back memories of his father Daoud, who also was killed by Palestinian militants in an attack in downtown Jerusalem’s Zion Square in 1975.

“Our lives are crazy,” Elias Khoury told Israel Radio. “Both sides use force. Acts of terror, acts of occupation, will not do either side any good. This has to stop.”

George Khoury was a second-year student of economics and international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In high school, he participated in several international gatherings on religious tolerance, his father said.

In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, a 7-year-old Palestinian girl died yesterday from wounds she suffered a day earlier, hospital officials said. Fatima al-Jallad was shot in the head while playing outside her home in the Khan Younis refugee camp Friday, Palestinian officials said.

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