11 Palestinians Killed, Over 80 Wounded in Jabalya Raid; at Least Half Are Civilian Dead

Eleven Palestinians were killed and more than 80 were wounded during an IDF raid yesterday into Jabalya and its neighboring refugee camp in northern Gaza.

Eleven Palestinians were killed - including two 14-year-olds and possibly other children, a fireman, and 61-year-old muezzin - and more than 80 were wounded during an IDF raid yesterday into Jabalya and its neighboring refugee camp in northern Gaza.

Five of the wounded were in critical condition. Among the wounded are four medics who were treating other wounded, as well as two Reuters cameramen, Ahmed Jedallah, who was seriously wounded and is being treated in Israel, and Shamas Shama. Two soldiers were slightly wounded. Last night, the IDF took up positions elsewhere in northern Gaza.

Seven of the dead were killed in a single incident, toward the end of the operation. The Palestinians say a tank fired a shell into a crowd, a version the army was disputing last night although the evidence - including videotape - tended toward confirming that the casualties were caused by a tank shell.

The disputed incident took place at 6 A.M. It began with a fire in a carpentry shop on the ground floor of a building on the main street in the town of Jabalya. The army says the fire was caused by a powerful bomb set off by the Palestinians as they tried to resist the IDF incursion. Residents say the fire was caused by IDF fire outside the carpentry shop, which set the wood alight. Field investigators who spoke with witnesses and visited the scene say there were no signs of a bomb inside the building.

Nonetheless, something blew a door out of the building, hitting a nearby armored personnel carrier, and prompting the operation commander to order the APC to back away from the area. As far as was known last night, nobody was hurt in the blast. But the carpentry shop caught fire and residents say the IDF shooting made it difficult for firemen to get to the scene.

The brigade commander ordered the APC to pull away after it was hit by the hurtling door. The APC did so, and along with other armor, moved to the edges of the camp, one of the most densely populated places in the world, where they provided security for men working on a tank that was stuck. The Palestinians say that when the IDF moved out, the firemen began their work, with help from residents.

About 20 minutes after the explosion in the shop, one of the tank crews spotted a Palestinian armed with an rocket propelled grenade launcher peeking out of one of the alleys. With authorization from the division commander, the tank crew fired a shell at the man with the RPG. The crew did not report seeing any other casualties.

But there was an explosion on the street near the burning building and it killed seven people - Ta'ar Rihan, 14, Ihab Nabahan, 14, Baha Abu Varda, 18, fireman Naji Abu Jalila, 30, and Hamdi Obeid. The two other bodies were yet to be identified. Reports said they were children.

The Palestinians say the explosion was caused by a shell fired from a tank east of the building. Throughout the day, IDF commanders in the area and IDF statements stuck to the version that "the damage to the shop was caused by bombs" inside the shop or which blew up during the fire.

Without aerial photos or maps pointing to the location of the tank relative to the carpentry shop, the only evidence last night was footage from TV crews on the scene, which confirm the Palestinian version. The videotapes, broadcast last night on both local and international TV stations, showed the explosion on the street - not inside the shop - was preceded by a whistling sound, possibly a tank shell. The wounded and dead are also clearly outside the shop - and a masked man with an RPG launcher is also in some of the frames.

According to the residents, on Wednesday night there were helicopters over the area at 10 P.M., and around 11:30 P.M. armor began entering the main street of Jabalya city, heading toward the camp. The first casualty in the operation, inside the camp, was Muhamed Shahada al-Biari, 61, a muezzin at the Al Awda Mosque. He was standing at the entrance to the camp. According to eyewitnesses and field reporters for human rights groups he was hit by shrapnel from a missile fired by one of the helicopters. Residents said they saw at least 4-6 flashes of fire from the choppers shooting.

Immediately afterward, 30-year-old policeman Muhsein Abu Uda was killed as the convoy moved north, firing constantly, with all together some 30 tanks in the operation. At that stage, Abdul Rahman Makdad, 21, was killed. Residents say he was not armed. Nail Abu Sadu, 30, a policeman, was also killed then.