IDF Injures Israeli Protester in Bil'in, International Activist in Gaza Strip

An Israeli demonstrator suffered moderate head injuries on Friday after a tear gas grenade was fired at him at a protest against the separation barrier near the West Bank village of Bil'in. Yesterday, two Palestinian demonstrators and an international activist from Malta were wounded by IDF fire across the border with Gaza, as they demonstrated against the army's buffer zone policy.

The Bil'in protester, Imad Rezka from Jaffa, was taking part in the weekly demonstration against the separation barrier encroaching on Bil'in land. Eyewitnesses said he came within 100 meters of the barrier with a small group of protesters, some of whom were throwing stones at soldiers standing on the other side. The soldiers fired tear gas at the demonstrators, but the strong wind quickly dissipated the gas.

"We were looking at where they were firing the canisters, because we knew it was dangerous," Rezka's girlfriend, Anat Sagi, told Haaretz. "I saw the canister fly at us, go over my head and hit Imad in the forehead. There was a spray of blood and he fell backward."

Rezka was taken to a Ramallah hospital, where it was found that the aluminum canister fractured his scull and caused intracranial hemorrhaging. He was then taken to the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, where surgeons removed shards from his scull and reconstructed it with plastic surgery.

Central Command officers told Haaretz that Rezka put himself in harm's way, and claimed that activists' initial reports of a "serious" injury were "manipulative," as he only sustained a "superficial wound."

"Like every week, there was an illegal protest going on that included stone throwing," one officer said. "The IDF responded with riot control means, gas and rubber bullets. We said this was a closed military zone, everyone knew they shouldn't go in there. Anyone present in that area is putting himself at risk."

Yesterday, three demonstrators in the Gaza Strip were injured by IDF fire. The demonstration, held on the Gaza side of the border fence north of Kibbutz Kisufim, was held in protest of the IDF's "buffer zone" policy, which created no-go areas along the entire border. The Palestinians say these zones run up to 20 percent of the narrow territory. The injured included a Palestinian woman who suffered a moderate stomach injury, and a volunteer from Malta who was shot in the leg. The IDF yesterday denied soldiers had observed any women at the protest, adding that the shooting was meant to deter the protesters from entering the buffer zone.

Military sources told Haaretz that the shooting was carried out in accordance to rules of engagement normally employed in the area. They said the IDF announced that Palestinians were prohibited from approaching the fence, after militants were on many occasions observed planting explosive devices nearby. According to the sources, Givati Brigade soldiers only fired at the demonstrators once they had approached within less than 100 meters of the fence, and the soldiers suspected they might try and cross it. The sources stressed the shots were aimed at the lower body mass of the demonstrators, and were not meant to kill.