Lost Israel troops stray into camp, spark bloody clashes

2016-03-01 22:35

Palestinians inspect abandoned parts with the registration plate of an Israeli army vehicle that was burned during an Israeli army raid in the West Bank refugee camp of Qalandia. (Nasser Nasser, AP)

Palestinians inspect abandoned parts with the registration plate of an Israeli army vehicle that was burned during an Israeli army raid in the West Bank refugee camp of Qalandia. (Nasser Nasser, AP)

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Qalandia - Two Israeli soldiers using a traffic app to find their way mistakenly entered a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank overnight, sparking clashes that killed one Palestinian and wounded 15 people, officials said on Tuesday.

The two soldiers travelling in a jeep entered the Qalandia refugee camp and were targeted with rocks and Molotov cocktails, Israeli officials said.

Israeli reinforcements were then urgently deployed to the camp between Jerusalem and Ramallah to rescue them, provoking further clashes that lasted hours. The two soldiers were later rescued unharmed.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said the soldiers "apparently used Waze", the Israeli-developed navigation app now owned by Google. The military said it was investigating.

Waze, however, said the soldiers themselves were at fault, with a setting that tells the app to avoid "dangerous areas" having been turned off and the driver having deviated from the suggested route.

With the threat of two of their soldiers being kidnapped or killed, Israeli forces were quickly dispatched.

According to an Israeli police spokesperson, Palestinians threw home made explosives and shot at the rescue team, which also opened fire.

The Palestinian health ministry said one Palestinian was killed and 10 wounded. The dead man was identified as Eyad Omar Sajdia, a 22-year-old student.

Five Israeli border police were also wounded, one of them seriously, police said.

'Didn't know the terrain'

A trail of blood could be seen extending down a wall from a roof where Sajdia was believed to have been when he was shot.

The narrow roads of the camp were littered with rocks and other debris, and several thousand people later attended Sajdia's funeral, his body wrapped in a Palestinian flag.

The two soldiers who first entered the camp abandoned their jeep, with one hiding in the courtyard of a house and shooting to defend himself and signal his position, the military spokesperson said.

The other fled towards the nearby Israeli settlement of Kochav Yaakov. Their jeep was burnt, and what was said to be its registration plate could be seen on the ground in the camp on Tuesday.

Sajdia's father, Omar, said a huge contingent of Israeli forces arrived at the camp.

"If you want to describe the situation you would say there is a war," he told AFP as he received guests who paid their respects at his home.

Residents said the Israeli reinforcements included a bulldozer that caused damage to homes.

The soldiers' mishap made headlines in Israel, whose military is reputed to be the region's most technologically advanced.

"They apparently used Waze, which indicated a short-cut from Jerusalem to Ramallah," Yaalon said at a conference, according to his office.

"They didn't know the terrain. We have to verify who sent them on the mission, what they knew and what they didn't know and how to respond when, in modern times, Waze shows you the way."

Yaalon said: "I learnt long ago, when GPS began to be used, that you cannot neglect locating yourself with a map."

He added that it was important to know "the environment and not be misled by technological systems that show you the way".

Waze faults soldiers 

But Waze, acquired by Google for more than $1bn in 2013, hit back at suggestions its app was at fault, saying it cannot protect against human error.

"[Waze] includes a specific default setting that prevents routes through areas which are marked as dangerous or prohibited for Israelis to drive through," the company said in a statement to AFP.

"In this case, the setting was disabled. In addition, the driver deviated from the suggested route and as a result, entered the prohibited area.

"There are also red signs on the road in question that prohibit access to Palestinian-controlled territories [for Israelis]. It is the responsibility of every driver to adhere to road and traffic signs and obey local laws."

Israeli raids on Qalandia to arrest suspects have sparked heavy clashes in the past.

The camp is located just beyond a checkpoint separating annexed east Jerusalem and the West Bank. The heavily fortified crossing is a hated symbol of the Israeli occupation for Palestinians.

Qalandia camp was established in 1949 in the wake of the creation of Israel and has grown into a densely populated town with 11 000 registered refugees.

Nearly one in five residents is unemployed, according to the UN, and around 60% are under 25 years old.

A wave of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories since October has killed 178 Palestinians as well as 28 Israelis, an American, a Sudanese and an Eritrean, according to an AFP toll.

Most of the Palestinians who died in the violence were killed by Israeli forces while carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, according to Israeli authorities.

Others were shot dead by Israeli forces during clashes or demonstrations.

Read more on:    palestine  |  israel

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