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Israeli bulldozer crushes U.S. activist in Gaza

©Associated Press
March 17, 2003

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- An American college student in Gaza to protest Israeli operations was killed Sunday when she was run over by a bulldozer while trying to block troops from demolishing a Palestinian home.

At least one Palestinian was killed.

The killing of the student by the Israelis -- the first of a foreign activist in 29 months of fighting -- came as Israelis and Palestinians wrangled over the terms of a U.S.-backed plan to end the violence and establish a Palestinian state.

Rachel Corrie, 23, of Olympia, Wash., had been with U.S. and British demonstrators in the Rafah refugee camp trying to stop demolitions. She died in the hospital, said Dr. Ali Moussa, a hospital administrator.

"This is a regrettable accident," army spokesman Capt. Jacob Dallal said. "We are dealing with a group of protesters who were acting very irresponsibly, putting everyone in danger."

The army said soldiers were looking for explosives and tunnels used to smuggle weapons.

The United States "deeply regrets this tragic death of an American citizen," State Department spokesman Lou Fintor said.

He expressed condolences to Corrie's family and said the United States wants an "immediate and full investigation" into her death.

"We again call on the Israeli defense forces to undertake all possible measures to avoid harm to civilians," Fintor's statement said.

Greg Schnabel, 28, of Chicago said four Americans and four Britons were trying to stop Israeli troops from destroying a building belonging to Dr. Samir Masri.

Israel for months has been tearing down houses of Palestinians it suspects in Islamic militant activity, saying such operations deter attacks on Israel.

"Rachel was alone in front of the house as we were trying to get them to stop," Schnabel said. "She waved for the bulldozer to stop. She fell down and the bulldozer kept going. It had completely run over her and then it reversed and ran back over her."

She was wearing a brightly colored jacket when the bulldozer hit her.

Several Palestinians gathered at the site, and troops fired, killing a Palestinian, witnesses said.

Corrie was the first member of the Palestinian-backed International Solidarity Movement to be killed in a conflict that has claimed more than 2,200 Palestinian lives -- about three times the toll on the Israeli side.

Her killing should be a message to President Bush, who is "providing Israel with tanks and bulldozers, and now they killed one of his own people," said Mansour Abed Allah, 29, a Palestinian human rights worker who witnessed Corrie's death.

'ROAD MAP' FOR PEACE: Bush said Friday a long-awaited "road map" for peace would be back on the table once Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat appointed a prime minister with real power -- a process that appeared well under way last week.

But on Sunday, Arafat presented legislators with proposed changes to the Palestinian basic law approved last Monday that, according to a diplomatic source, created the impression that a prime minister was not independent.

The source told the Associated Press that the move could thereby reduce pressure on Israel to constructively engage the new Palestinian prime minister.

The road map worked out by the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia foresees Palestinian statehood by 2005 and an end to Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank and Gaza.

While Arafat bowed to intense international pressure and agreed to share control with a new prime minister, Palestinian legislators said Sunday he was asking for amendments in the law passed last week.

The most significant change was that Arafat wanted the ultimate say in the creation of a new Palestinian Cabinet, suggesting he could have veto power over candidates nominated by the prime minister. He also asked for the right to chair Cabinet meetings, legislators said.

The 88-member Palestinian Legislative Council is to meet today to discuss the proposed changes. If agreement is reached, legislators are expected to approve the appointment of Arafat's longtime deputy, Mahmoud Abbas, as premier.

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