Merchant's Son Slain As Israelis Open Fire At Busy Jenin Market
Violence Casts Pall on Religious Holidays
By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 3, 2002; Page A16
JENIN, West Bank, Dec. 2 -- Mutaz Odeh, 15, left home this morning with extra money in his pocket in hopes of buying sweets to sell at his father's stand in downtown Jenin. He returned home with a bullet through his lower back, shot dead by Israeli soldiers who, witnesses said, opened fire on a marketplace swarming with children on their way to school and bustling with people buying supplies for the feast that ends the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
So tonight, when the family would have been breaking the Ramadan fast at a festive meal, the Odeh men instead were grieving over the youngster they had buried just after noon prayers.
"They [soldiers] were shooting in all directions in a terrifying way," said Muhayman Odeh, Mutaz's cousin, who was working in a bakery across the street. "People were running to the alleyways and shops to hide."
Muhammad Kamal Odeh, 52, said he and his son were bolting from their snack stand, toting bags of nuts, when Mutaz was shot in the back. An Israeli military spokesman said the youth was killed while trying to climb onto an armored personnel carrier that witnesses said was about 150 yards from the shop.
The Odeh youth was one of four Palestinians killed in violence across the West Bank and Gaza Strip today. At least 50 Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers were injured in the various incidents, according to Palestinian medical officials, media reports and an Israeli military spokesman.
The bursts of violence included two Israeli military operations in city centers where Palestinian shoppers were attempting to buy groceries and gifts for Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that ends Ramadan, the Muslim month of prayer and sacrifice. The bloodshed became another cause for grief as Israelis and Palestinians both prepared to observe holidays whose normal joy was undercut by a seemingly endless cycle of death and retribution.
For Israelis, this week's Hanukah celebrations have been overshadowed by the day of terror last Thursday that unnerved a nation numbed by suicide bombings and other attacks. Two surface-to-air missiles were fired, unsuccessfully, at an Israeli charter plane leaving Mombasa, Kenya, and a car bomb exploded at a nearby Israeli-owned hotel, killing more than a dozen people, including three Israelis. Later in the day, two Palestinian gunmen killed six people when they opened fire on voters in a Likud Party primary who were in line at a polling station in a northern Israeli town.
Mutaz Odeh had dropped out of school this year to help his ailing, diabetic father run his small stand selling cigarettes and nuts in the central marketplace of Jenin, a city where at least 33 Palestinian civilians have been killed since May, about one-third of them children and youths.
Witnesses said two armored vehicles, surrounded by armored jeeps, pulled into the town's main circle just after 8:30 a.m., about 150 yards from the Odehs' stand.
"We carried the sacks of nuts and started running away," said Muhammad Kamal Odeh. "He [Mutaz] ran for 100 yards, then fell to the ground. People started yelling, 'Your son was injured, your son was injured!' I threw down the sack I was carrying and ran back," Odeh said. " 'My son! My son!' He didn't reply."
Odeh and other relatives described Mutaz as too overweight to clamber up a tank or armored personnel carrier.
"I don't think the father would say he was trying to climb an armored vehicle when he was shot," responded an Israeli military spokesman. "Of course, not to the media."
The spokesman said soldiers are "learning from past mistakes that when Palestinians climb an armored vehicle, sometimes they are carrying explosive belts or other kinds of weapons. . . . He was climbing the armored vehicle and, from fear for their lives, they shot the Palestinian and he was killed."
The spokesman said Israeli soldiers came under fire from Palestinian gunmen in the marketplace and nearby buildings.
Twenty-three Palestinians were injured during the shooting, according to Mohammed Abu Ghali, director of the Jenin Government Hospital, where the wounded were treated. The Israeli military spokesman said one soldier was injured.
In the West Bank city of Tulkarm, Maher Ramez Saqallah, 19, was shot and killed during a midafternoon gun battle in the town center, according to Palestinian media reports. Israeli military officials said troops opened fire on groups of Palestinians who were violating a curfew and throwing firebombs at Israeli military patrols in armored jeeps.
Witnesses said Saqallah was a bystander and was not involved in the fighting. An Israeli military spokesman did not dispute that account but said he could not confirm that any Palestinians were hit.
According to Husam Tanib, deputy director of the Tulkarm hospital, 14 Palestinians were hospitalized with bullet or shrapnel wounds. He said four others had bruises and fractures caused by beatings from Israeli soldiers.
In the Gaza Strip, one Palestinian was killed and nine others were wounded when Palestinians attempting to fire mortars near the Erez crossing into Israel apparently miscalculated and the shells landed on a group of Palestinian laborers returning home from work, according to Israeli military officials and local media reports.
Also today, Israeli soldiers killed an armed Palestinian who military officials said was trying to enter the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip. A military spokesman said the gunman was dressed in an Israeli army uniform and was carrying a Kalashnikov rifle and three hand grenades. Military officials said a soldier was slightly injured in that incident.