Deaths of 2 Palestinian children blamed on Israeli blockade
Web posted at: 7:22 p.m. EDT (2322 GMT)
From Correspondent Jerrold Kessel
HEBRON, West Bank (CNN) -- Two weeks ago, Hebron's Jewish settlers buried Rabbi Shlomo Raanan, a prominent member of their community who was believed to have been murdered by a Palestinian militant.
In response, Israel imposed a tight cordon around Palestinian-controlled Hebron, as well as a 10-day curfew on the 25,000 Palestinians who still live in the Israeli-controlled part of the divided city.
Fadwa Adam bears the painful result of that blockade. Because her village near Hebron has no medical facilities, her family was rushing her into the city for the birth of her fourth child when they were stopped at an Israeli roadblock.
"I begged the soldier, and I prayed God would give his children a long life," says Luqaya Astrash, Adam's mother-in-law. "But all he did was to tell me to go away. And when I didn't, he threatened to shoot at my feet."
By the time the family had taken a major detour to the hospital, Adam gave birth in the car. Complications set in, and the baby died shortly after reaching the hospital.
A similar tragedy befell Shireen Hadad, who lives on the border between the two parts of Hebron. During the curfew, she tried to rush one of her 3-month-old triplets, Kosai, to a doctor after the baby developed breathing problems.
She says soldiers manning two Israeli Jeeps at a roadblock ordered her to return to her house. Two hours later, she eluded the soldiers by way of a nearby vineyard, but the baby died before she could reach a hospital.
"Kosai is gone. He will never come back," she says. "I am in so much pain because everything around me reminds me of him."
The director of the Hebron Government Hospital, Dr. Yousef Shaarawi, says both children would have lived had they gotten to the hospital earlier. The Israeli military acknowledges that soldiers prevented these Palestinian mothers from getting through the roadblocks but denies that the delays led directly to the deaths.
"I would like to apologize for the deaths of the two babies in these incidents during the curfew," says Brigadier Gen. Yitshak Eitan, Israel's army commander on the West Bank. "But we could not find a link between the death of the babies and the delay at the checkpoint."
These two latest cases appear to be part of a larger problem -- how should the Israeli army balance perceived security needs with the humanitarian needs of Palestinians?
"It's clear that these severe restrictions on freedom of movement constitute a collective punishment on the population," says Jessica Montell of the B'tselem Human Rights Group.
"It's very rare at this time to do collective punishment, but when the situation is very, very sensitive, sometimes you don't have another choice," says Eitan.
"The rule should be that whenever there is a doubt, the humanitarian considerations should prevail and have preference over all others," says Dr. Rafi Walden of the group Physicians for Human Rights.
The cordon has since been lifted from around Hebron. But given the continuing turmoil in Israeli-Palestinian relations, it seems inevitable that this quandary will present itself again in the future.
B A C K G R O U N D I K E Y P L A Y E R S I M A P S
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