RAM, Israeli-Occupied West Bank — An Israeli soldier shot and killed a 25-year-old Palestinian woman in this village about five miles north of Jerusalem on Sunday, raising fears that an unprecedented wave of violence that swept through the occupied territories last month might be reignited.
Haniya Ghazawneh became the 23rd confirmed fatality of army gunfire since the trouble began Dec. 9. Her death followed several days of relative calm, which officials had hoped signaled the end of the most widespread unrest since Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Indicative of official concern over the potential aftermath of Sunday's shooting, the army, in an extraordinary announcement issued less than three hours after the incident, said that both the soldier involved and his commanding officer had been suspended from duty, pending completion of a military investigation.
After the shooting, youths built makeshift roadblocks from scrap metal and burning tires and marched in demonstrations that lasted into Sunday evening. Security forces finally used tear gas to disperse the protesters.
News of the latest death coincided with the government's announcement that it intends to expel nine Palestinian activists from the West Bank and Gaza and also with reports that Israel's first air strike in two months against Palestinian bases in southern Lebanon on Saturday night had killed at least 21 people near Sidon.
It was feared that even if Sunday's shooting here in Ram did not trigger more unrest, reaction to the two weekend episodes together might do so.
A preliminary investigation of the shooting supervised by Gen. Amram Mitzna, the Israel Defense Forces' West Bank commander, "found that the IDF force did not act according to regulations," according to the army announcement.
Earlier, the army said that the unidentified soldier had fired in self-defense when he found himself in a life-threatening situation.
However, both the later army statement and the accounts of eyewitnesses here cast doubt on that earlier version.
The trouble started when 15 to 20 youths with kaffiyehs hiding their faces to prevent identification hurled stones at civilian and military vehicles along the main Jerusalem-Ramallah road, which borders Ram.
Stone Throwers Pursued
Shortly before noon, troops arrived to disperse the stone throwers, pursuing them into this village of about 1,000 inhabitants. Ghazawneh was shot in the neck while standing on the back porch of a home she shared with her mother and a number of other members of her extended family. The house is about half a mile inside the village.
Reporters who arrived on the scene a little more than an hour after the incident saw bloodstains near a clothesline hung with fresh washing and also near the side door through which the dying woman was carried by neighbors.
There were two bullet holes through a window next to the front door of the house, and the side door showed signs of having been broken into. The victim's mother and about 40 other women sat outside a neighboring house wailing and chanting.
Eyewitnesses said they heard gunfire from below the house and then saw one soldier, whom they described as tall, red-haired and carrying the red beret of an Israeli paratrooper, pursuing a boy of 13 or 14 to the Ghazawneh home. They said the soldier was separated from the rest of his unit as he ran.
"I saw a young boy, I think from Kalandia (a neighboring refugee camp), running," said Zuhair Said Agha, 11. "A soldier was chasing him. The boy ran straight in here," said Agha, referring to the side yard, "and the soldier entered behind him. Then I heard the shooting."
Chased Through House
A neighbor, Shiha Ayssa, said the chase went through the house and back out into the yard, where the soldier caught the boy and began hitting him with his rifle. The boy cried for help and Ghazawneh approached, shouting, "Leave him alone!"
"When she was shouting, he shot her," said Hiam Ghazawneh, a cousin of the dead woman. It was unclear exactly why the shot was fired, although the witnesses said that the victim was not involved in the demonstration.
"We started shouting: 'Look what you did! You killed her!' " said Hiam Ghazawneh. She said that the soldier released the boy and ran away.
Below the victim's house, at the main road leading from the highway into the village, witnesses described the soldier as apparently disoriented, running first in one direction, then in the other before being found by his unit.
Gen. Mitzna arrived soon afterwards and, after an on-the-spot investigation, told reporters at the scene: "Something happened that shouldn't have."
Ghazawneh was the third woman slain in the violence of the last month. Two boys, aged 10 and 11, were also among the victims.