Israeli troops killed five Palestinians early today during a shoot-out in the southern Gaza Strip, doctors in the local hospital said.
The army said troops hunting an alleged member of the militant Islamic Hamas movement in the town of Khan Younis shot at the suspect as he tried to flee, and he exploded, indicating he was carrying a bomb or wearing an explosive belt, of the type used by suicide bombers.
Doctors contradicted the army account, saying the dead man suffered extensive bullet wounds but did not show signs of having been in an explosion. Another four Palestinians died in exchanges of fire between Palestinians and the Israeli force, the hospital said.
A Palestinian militant group offered an unusual apology yesterday for mistakenly killing an Arab college student in a drive-by shooting in a Jewish neighbourhood, calling his family to share their condolences and declaring him a “martyr”.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a group linked to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, said it carried out the shooting in Jerusalem late on Friday, in which gunmen in a passing car shot a jogger twice in the head and once in the abdomen.
The group apologised on yesterday after it turned out the victim was George Khoury, 21, the son of a prominent Arab lawyer.
Zacariyya Zubeidi, head of an Al Aqsa cell in the West Bank town of Jenin and one of Israel’s most wanted men, said Mr Khoury was a martyr, a distinction normally reserved for Palestinians killed in the conflict with Israel, including bombers and gunmen on suicide missions.
“The family remained angry and it’s their right to be angry, but we consider him one of the many martyrs that fall every day,” Zubeidi said.
“This is a war between us and Israel and it is natural for there to be accidental victims.”
For the murdered man’s father, Elias Khoury, the killing brought back memories of his father Daoud, who was also killed by Palestinian militants, in an attack in Jerusalem’s Zion Square in 1975.
“Our lives are crazy,” Elias Khoury told Israel Radio. ”Both sides use force. Acts of terror, acts of occupation, will not do either side any good. This has to stop.”
George Khoury was a second year student of economics and international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In high school, he participated in several international gatherings on religious tolerance, his father said.
Bloodshed continued overnight, with troops shooting dead a fleeing suspect in the Gaza Strip town of Khan.
In the Balata refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus, Israeli troops shot and killed a 19-year-old Palestinian yesterday. Palestinians said the teenager was throwing stones at the forces with a group of youths. The army said he was armed.
In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, a seven-year-old Palestinian girl died from wounds she suffered on Friday, hospital officials said.
Fatima al-Jallad was shot in the head while playing outside her home in the Khan Younis refugee camp, Palestinian officials said.
Residents said the girl was killed by Israeli soldiers who fired from an outpost at the nearby Jewish settlement of Ganei Tal. An army spokeswoman said she did not have any information about the girl.
But she said that at about the same time soldiers nearby fired warning shots in the air as two Palestinians entered an off-limits buffer zone between Israel and Gaza.
Israel launched a new offensive into Gaza following a twin suicide bombing in the Israeli seaport of Ashdod that killed 10 Israelis.