Text size

Israel Defense Forces troops firing from a tank critically wounded a British man Friday as he and other activists in a pro-Palestinian group approached an army position on the edge of a Gaza refugee camp, witnesses said.

The Briton, Thomas Hurndall, 21, from Manchester, suffered a head injury that left him comatose and hooked up to a respirator, said doctors.

He was the second foreigner to be harmed in a week. A third member of the group, the International Solidarity Movement, was killed while trying to stop an Israeli army bulldozer a month ago, near where Hurndall was shot Friday.

The IDF had no comment about Friday's shooting.

Israel has said Palestinian gunmen often use civilians as human shields and thus endanger them.

Friday's incident began when about a dozen members of the International Solidarity Movement, including foreigners and Palestinians, walked toward Israeli tanks on the outskirts of the Rafah refugee camp, near the border with Egypt, said Khalil Hamra, a photographer on assignment for The Associated Press.

The tanks patrol a road used by the army for incursions into the camp. The activists wanted to set up a protest tent on the road, in an attempt to block incursions, said Hamra and Khalil Abdullah, a Palestinian who works with the group but who is not a member.

Along the way, the protesters were joined by several children, the witnesses said. When the group was about 200 yards away from three tanks, soldiers opened fire from a tank-mounted machine gun, the witnesses said.

Hurndall and another foreign activist tried to get two children out of the line of fire, Hamra and Abdullah said. "Thomas grabbed one of their hands and as soon as he did that a tank fired at him, hitting him in the head," Hamra said.

The photographer said the children were not throwing rocks at the troops and that he saw nothing that would have provoked the troops.

Hurndall was declared brain dead after arriving at Rafah Hospital, said Dr. Ali Musa. He was later transferred to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva.

Rafah has been a flashpoint of clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians. Troops have repeatedly raided the camp, demolishing scores of houses the army said were used by Palestinian gunmen as firing positions.

A few blocks from where Friday's shooting occurred, American activist Rachel Corrie, 23, was killed on March 16 while trying to stop an Israeli army bulldozer.

Witnesses said the bulldozer ran her over and then backed up. The army said the driver did not see her and that her death was an accident. Corrie, a student in Olympia, Washington, was the first member of the group to be killed in 30 months of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians.

Last week, Bryan Avery, 24, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, was shot in the face while walking with a fellow activist in the West Bank town of Jenin. Witnesses said he was wounded by army fire. The army said it was firing at gunmen in the area and was not aware it hit Avery.