Israeli Suspended After Girl Shot

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The Israeli army has suspended a platoon commander suspected of emptying an ammunition clip into a 13-year-old Palestinian girl who had already been shot several times by soldiers, a commander said Wednesday. Soldiers in the platoon say they pleaded with their commander to stop shooting.

The army has launched an investigation into the shooting of Iyman Hams on Oct. 5 near an army outpost in southern Gaza. Initially, the army said soldiers opened fire on the girl because they suspected she was planting a bomb.

The girl's family said she was on her way to school when she was shot.

In other developments:

  • Israeli troops arrested Emad Qawasmeh, the Hamas leader of the West Bank city of Hebron, Wednesday after surrounding his hideout, witnesses said. Hamas in Hebron had claimed responsibility for twin suicide bombings in the Israeli town of Beersheba on Aug. 31 in which 16 Israelis were killed.
  • A top Palestinian security chief has escaped an assassination attempt by fellow Palestinians, CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger reports. A car bomb exploded near the convoy of Palestinian security chief Moussa Arafat, the latest sign of growing chaos in the Gaza Strip as Israel prepares to withdraw from the area next year. Arafat, a cousin of Yasser Arafat, wasn't hurt.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is facing a split in his own Likud party, by those who oppose his plan to withdraw from Gaza and dismantle 21 settlements there. "He's brought the issue to a referendum in the Likud, the Likud party already decided, and it's decided 'no,'" said senior Likud member Moshe Arens.

    His aides say Sharon does not intend to make any changes to his ruling coalition ahead of the October 25 Knesset vote on the disengagement plan.

  • An early-warning system for incoming Palestinian rockets operated successfully for the first time Wednesday in an area of southern Israel near the Gaza Strip, the army said. Two homemade Qassam rockets were fired from Gaza on Wednesday, setting off sirens just seconds before they hit the ground. Four Sderot residents, including three children, have been killed in rocket attacks on Sderot, an Israeli border town.

    Soldiers from the platoon whose commander has been suspended have told Israeli media that the girl had already been shot and possibly killed but that the commander approached her and shot her with automatic fire as they pleaded with him to stop.

    Palestinian doctors said the girl was shot 15 times.

    "I found it necessary to suspend the platoon commander for now," Col. Eyal Eisenberg told Army Radio. "The accusations are grave ... We will get to the bottom of the truth."

    Eisenberg, commander of the elite Givati Brigade, said soldiers were embroiled in a "complicated reality" during four years of fighting with the Palestinians.

    Israeli soldiers have become increasingly wary of Palestinian teenagers and women after several committed suicide bombings or transported explosives. Palestinian militants have carried out dozens of suicide bombings in Israel during the past four years.

    Hundreds of Palestinian children and teens have been killed by army fire in the past four years, often in clashes between stone throwers and Israeli troops. The army rarely launches investigations into the incidents.

    On Tuesday, an 11-year-old Palestinian girl was shot and critically injured as she sat in her classroom at a U.N. school in the Khan Younis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency said. The girl, Ghadeer Mokheimer, died Wednesday of her injuries.

    Ghadeer had been sitting at her desk in fifth grade when she was struck in the stomach, UNRWA said. The fire came from the direction of a nearby Israeli army post, the U.N. agency said.

    Last month, a 10-year-old girl was killed by Israeli gunfire while sitting at her desk at another school in the Khan Younis camp.

    "It is important to remember that the terrorists operate within the local civilian population," an Israeli official told the Jerusalem Post. "It is regretful that children are among the casualties, but one also shouldn't rule out the possibility that they were hit by Palestinian gunfire and not by soldiers in some of the incidents."