Masked troops raid hospital

2003-10-25 16:20

Nablus, West Bank - Dozens of Israeli troops wearing black ski masks and armed with assault rifles raided two West Bank hospitals before dawn on Saturday, arresting two Palestinian terror suspects, including a critically injured patient, witnesses and the military said.

At about 03:00 (01:00 GMT) troops pulled up in jeeps and swept into the two hospitals in the city of Nablus, confining doctors and other staff to rooms for more than an hour as they kicked open doors in room-to-room searches, witnesses said.

Phone lines were cut and soldiers made some doctors and nurses to lie on the ground and told patients to put their hands in the air, a witness said. Another soldier filmed patients with a hand-held video recorder.

The operation followed several similar raids in recent weeks, including cases where soldiers arrested militants using hospitals to hide, and raised fears among doctors and human rights groups that hospitals were no longer neutral ground in fighting that's lasted three years.

In Nablus' Anglican Hospital Saturday, soldiers entered the intensive care unit and snatched Khaled Hamed, a 25-year-old member of the militant Hamas group who was badly injured on Wednesday when explosives inside a car he was riding in went off accidentally. One man was killed in the blast and another injured.

"I explained to the soldiers how critical his condition is," said Dr Annan Abdel Hak. "Then they removed the machines from his body."

The doctor said Hamed lost two fingers in the blast and suffered bleeding in his brain and light burns on his body.

A military source said Hamed had planned suicide bombing attacks. He said troops transported the man in a military ambulance to an Israeli hospital where he was in stable condition.

Elsewhere in the city, troops stormed Rafidiyeh Hospital and arrested an armed member of the violent Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a group of militants with links to Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction. The military said troops found the man, who Palestinians identified as Jawad Ishtayeh, 27, hiding out in the hospital's cellar and armed with a pistol.

Palestinian security sources said the man was not a patient and was apparently using the hospital as a hide-out.

An American peace activist witnessed the arrest raid in the hospital, where he was recovering from light gunshot wounds to his leg.

As they left, he looked from a hospital window and saw one man being arrested.

Israeli army spokesperson Sharon Feingold said Palestinian militants were making a new strategy of hiding out in hospitals to avoid arrest. She said troops would continue to search hospitals when it's believed militants are among wounded patients or are hiding out.

"Hospitals should not be used to harbour terrorists," Feingold said.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat accused the Israelis of violating international human rights laws with the raids.