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Israel orders inquiry into shooting of Palestinian girl
By Philip Jacobson in Jerusalem
(Filed: 30/03/2003)

The Israeli high command has ordered an urgent investigation into the killing of a Palestinian Christian girl after the car in which she and her family were travelling came under heavy fire from troops hunting Islamic militants.

About 30 bullets were sprayed at the vehicle at close range, killing Christine Saadeh, 12, and wounding her father, the headmaster of a Greek Orthodox school, her mother and her sister.

The army investigation will focus on whether Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza are becoming too quick on the trigger - an allegation made increasingly by human rights groups.

Christine was the third Palestinian child to be killed by troops this month - a 14-year-old boy was shot in Jenin last week - and Israeli officials admit privately that the deaths are causing concern at cabinet level. One official said: "There would be no justification for the death of Palestinians under the age of 16, even if they were throwing Molotov cocktails."

After the killing in Bethlehem last Tuesday night, army officers claimed that soldiers had fired on the Saadehs' car because they feared it was about to run them over. But in a statement the next day, a military spokesman made no mention of this, and expressed deep regret over "a tragic turn of events".

The Israeli media reported that an operation had been under way to arrest two Palestinians wanted in connection with attacks by militants. The army says the pair had been driving just ahead of the Saadehs' car and initiated the gun battle. Both men were killed in the shooting. A third Palestinian man, believed to be a passer-by, also died.

At a Jerusalem hospital, where he is recovering from wounds to his back and abdomen, Christine's father George Saadeh, 41, told The Telegraph what happened after the family set off for a supermarket in their car.

"I saw two army jeeps on Nasser Street and thought about reversing away, but Palestinians know that can be fatal, so I drove towards them very slowly.

"I put on my indicator to show I was pulling out to avoid their vehicles. Just as we passed in front of them, the windscreen was blown in and bullets started flying around the car. I pulled up and screamed at the soldiers to stop the firing, but it continued. I looked behind and saw Christine slumped down, covered in blood."

His daughter Marian, 15, was shot in the leg and his wife received cuts to her head.

Mr Saadeh, head of the Orthodox Shepherd's School, is a respected figure in Bethlehem. He campaigns for peace and reconciliation, welcomes Muslim pupils and has numerous Jewish friends.

"I've always taught my students that we should live together in love and harmony in the Holy Land, but what's happening now is terrible, people are just getting crazy," he said. He was doing his best as a true Christian "not to allow hate into my heart at those who killed my beautiful little girl".

23 March 2003: Palestinian PM to get instant call to Washington
18 March 2003: Girl, 4, dies in Israeli raids in Gaza Strip
10 March 2003: Israel fears Hamas revenge attacks
7 March 2003: Israeli tanks kill 11 in 'revenge attack'

Related reports  

External links  
Israeli Defence Forces
Middle East Watch - Znet
Electronic Intifada
Rebuilding Palestine's economy by Claus Astrup - Project Syndicate