Soldiers Kill UN Worker, Mistaking Him for Terrorist


By Margot Dudkevitch
The Jerusalem Post Nov. 24, 2002

Preliminary investigations by the IDF revealed that a British UN aid worker killed Friday during clashes between soldiers and Palestinian gunmen in the Jenin refugee camp was shot by a soldier who mistook a mobile phone in his hand for a grenade.

Initial army investigations showed that soldiers spotted Iain Hook inside the UNRWA compound holding an object that resembled a gun.

Hook, 52, is the first UN foreign national to die since the outbreak of violence over two years ago. He was managing a $27 million project to rebuild the Jenin refugee camp, damaged during the IDF offensive in the area in April.

Findings published on Saturday night show that terrorists shot from inside the UNRWA compound and from alleyways next to the compound using civilians as human shields. In one case a terrorist shot from behind a woman holding an UNRWA flag. Throughout, the soldiers strictly adhered to the open fire regulations and refrained from responding in a manner that would endanger innocent civilians, the army said.

The army is continuing an in-depth investigation into the affair.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called Hook’s death "a terrible tragedy" and said Britain has demanded a full investigation into the incident. Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called him to express his sorrow, Straw said.

In the same incident Muhammad Bilalo, a 13-year-old Palestinian, was killed and Coimeh Butterly, a female Irish voluntary aid worker, was shot in the leg.

Soldiers had come under massive gunfire as they surrounded a house in the camp to capture Islamic Jihad fugitive Abdullah Naji Wahash. A member of the Islamic Jihad military wing, he is responsible for numerous bomb attacks inside Israel, including the dispatching of the suicide bombers who blew themselves up next to a bus at the Karkur junction in October killing 14 Israelis and wounding eight. In recent days he was planning a car bomb attack in Israel.

The soldiers returned fire, and Hook was hit in the stomach by two bullets as he was trying to coordinate the evacuation of staff from the compound.

Hook died en route to the Jenin Hospital, where hospital director Muhammad Abu Ghali said the two bullets extricated from his abdomen were the kind used by the army. A local UN spokesman, Sami Mshasha, said Hook’s body would be taken to Jerusalem for autopsy.

A UN statement claimed the army delayed access to an ambulance to take him to hospital. IDF officials denied this, saying he was evacuated as soon as possible.

"This latest attack shows just how extreme the current Israeli government is," said Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, the president of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees. "They are willing to kill not only Palestinians but also members of the international community who are here trying to help the Palestinian people," he said.

UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, Peter Hansen, voiced "shock and outrage" at Hook’s death and said he hoped Hook’s family would "take some small comfort and pride in the knowledge that he lost his life trying to save that of others."

A statement issued by the IDF Spokesman said: "The IDF’s operations are directed against terrorists and their dispatchers only. However, the fact that the terrorists operate from inside densely populated civilian areas and create battle situations in built-up areas endangers the lives of the local population."

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz expressed sorrow over the incident and stressed he was waiting for the results of the pending IDF investigation in order to determine who was responsible for the death.

Douglas Davis contributed to this story.