By Justin Huggler in Jerusalem (from Portside)
A British peace activist was pronounced brain-dead yesterday after being shot in the head by an Israeli army sniper.
Tom Hurndall, 21, from London, was shot while trying to rescue Palestinian children from a street where they were pinned down by Israeli gunfire.
He is the third peace activist to be killed or seriously injured in the occupied territories in the past month.
His fellow activists were beginning to wonder aloud last night if they are a target of the Israeli army. Mr Hurndall was declared brain-dead on arrival at a Palestinian hospital in Rafah but there were some reports last night that his condition might be improving.
Mr Hurndall came to the occupied territories after leaving Baghdad, where he had travelled as a human shield before the start of the war in Iraq. His group of activists was in a refugee camp in Rafah near the Egyptian border, where Israeli soldiers often demolish Palestinian homes because they say militants use them as cover from which to fire.
The civilian occupants of the houses are left homeless.
Mr Hurndall’s group intended to stay the night in a tent in a street where an Israeli tank frequently fires into civilian houses, according to Raphael Cohen, another British activist who was there when Mr Hurndall was shot. The Independent has witnessed Israeli tanks firing on civilian houses in Rafah when there were no militants in the area.
When the activists reached the street, Mr Cohen said, they found it already under fire and too dangerous to enter.
The gunfire was coming from one of the Israeli army watchtowers on the Egyptian border, which surround much of Rafah. A group of about 20 Palestinian children Ã¢â‚¬â€?Ethe oldest was about 10, according to Mr Cohen, the rest younger Ã¢â‚¬â€?Ewere trapped by gunfire in the street. Mr Hurndall decided to go into the street with two other activists to bring the children out of the line of fire, believing they were less likely to be fired on because they were foreigners.
“Tom went and brought one boy back with him,” said Mr Cohen by telephone from Rafah. “But he saw two girls were still stuck there. He went back out for them and immediately he was hit in the head.” Like other peace campaigners, Mr Hurndall was wearing brightly coloured overalls so that he could be easily identified as an activist.
“The Israeli army was very aware of our presence in the area,” said Mr Cohen.
He said the activists, who have been sleeping in Palestinian houses that have been coming under fire, had hung banners around the area saying they were there. Mr Cohen said Israeli soldiers had “shot the banners to shreds”. The International Solidarity Movement (ISM), of which Mr Hurndall was a member, has been heavily criticised in Israel as one-sided.
It is pro-Palestinian but the members are unarmed non- combatants.
The shooting of Mr Hurndall comes after Rachel Corrie, an American, became the first ISM activist to be killed when she was crushed by an Israeli army bulldozer in Rafah last month. The Israeli army claimed that it was an accident and said that the driver of the bulldozer did not see her.
Brian Avery, another American activist, was seriously wounded last week when he was hit in the face by machine-gun fire from an Israeli armoured personnel carrier in the West Bank city of Jenin.
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