BEIT EL, Occupied West Bank — Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin today defended the use of plastic bullets in the occupied lands as Arab hospital officials confirmed the first two Palestinian deaths from the new ammunition.
The deaths followed criticism of the army's tactic of allowing troops to fire plastic bullets more freely at Arab stone throwers. A U.N. relief agency has protested what it said is a sharp increase in injuries since the plastic bullets went into use.
Rabin said plastic bullets were added to the soldiers' arsenal in August after rubber bullets, tear gas and clubs "proved to be insufficient to cope" with stone-throwing incidents linked to the 9-month-old uprising in the occupied territories.
"Those who participate in violent activities suffer more casualties in terms of wounded," he told a news conference at a military camp in Beit El, 12 miles north of Jerusalem. "It did not increase the number of people who are killed."
Rabin added: "Our purpose is to increase the number (of wounded) among those who take part in violent activities but not to kill them."
Affixes Secondary Importance
Asked about the U.N. Relief and Works Agency protest, Rabin said his job was to reduce violence in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. "Other protests, with all due respect, are of secondary importance to me," Rabin said.
The first confirmed fatalities from plastic bullets were identified by hospital officials as Osama Braikah, 17, of Khan Yunis refugee camp, and Jihad Zanoun, 27, of Gaza City. Both are in the Gaza Strip.
Braikah was hit by two plastic bullets today during a demonstration by dozens of stone-throwing protesters in his camp, said Dr. Ahmed Yazejeh of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. One bullet hit his face, Yazejeh said, "but a plastic bullet to the heart killed him."
Yazejeh said he received the information from physicians at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, where Braikah was declared dead on arrival. A spokesman at Nasser Hospital also confirmed the fatality was caused by a plastic bullet.
The other victim, Zanoun, died Monday after being struck in the chest by a plastic bullet during clashes in Gaza City, according to doctors at Shifa Hospital.
The deaths raised to 276 the number of Palestinians killed since the Palestinian uprising began Dec. 8. Six Israelis have died.