James Hider
The Times
July 30, 2008 - 3:25pm

Israeli soldiers shot dead a young Palestinian boy today during heated protests in a West Bank village close to Israel’s huge separation barrier.

Hammad Hossam Mussa, believed to be around nine years old, was mortally wounded by an Israeli bullet as protestors threw rocks near the West Bank close to the village of Nilin.

The boy was killed on the same day that the Israeli army suspended a lieutenant-colonel who had allowed one of his men to shoot a bound and blindfolded Palestinian youth in the leg with a rubber-coated bullet during a recent protest in the village, where frequent demonstrations against the fence take place. A Palestinian observer filmed the soldier shooting the detained Palestinian at point-blank range, inflicting minor injuries.

The battalion commander was relieved of his duties for 10 days and condemned by a military investigation for his “moral and authoritative failure”.

The killing of the boy is the first such fatality since 2005, when a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was shot for getting too close to the fence in a protest.

The demonstrations are led by local Palestinian villagers whose communities are cut off by the 436-mile long barrier and supported by foreign sympathisers from the International Solidarity Movement. Palestinian youths often throw rocks during the protests and Israeli troops fire tear gas and rubber bullets.

Israel says the wall is needed to keep Palestinian suicide bombers from entering its territory, while the Palestinians say the barrier, which is mostly built within the West Bank, is a de facto land grab and an obstacle to peace talks.

According to Israeli reports, the army intends to tear down a small section of the controversial barrier in response to a petition filed with the High Court by Palestinians from two villages and hand back confiscated farming land to the communities.

Salah Al Khawaja, a member of Nilin’s Committee Against the Wall, said Israeli troops fired live rounds at a group of protesters who ran into Nilin after security forces dispersed demonstrators using rubber-coated bullets.

“Protesters arrived at the wall’s construction site outside the village and the soldiers started to open fire with rubber bullets and tear gas. This pushed the protesters back into the village where the boy was hit by a live bullet in his chest,” he said.

Fifteen people were slightly wounded by the fire. Israeli security sources said protesters lobbed stones onto an Israeli highway near-by, damaging some cars and causing minor injuries to motorists.

The shooting will further undermine already flagging attempts to revive the peace process that collapsed eight years ago with the start of the second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising. Today Hamas, the hardline Islamist rulers of Gaza, mocked the secular Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which runs the West Bank, saying it had only clung on to power in the area because of the “protection of the Zionists,” a reference to the Israeli military occupation.

Many senior Israeli army officers privately agree that if they were to withdraw their forces Hamas would quickly repeat their lightning military victory over Fatah in the Gaza Strip last summer, which left Mr Abbas’ organization reeling.


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