British human shield critically hurt
BEN LYNFIELD IN JERUSALEM
A YOUNG British activist serving in Gaza as a human shield for Palestinian civilians was in a critical condition last night after being shot in the head by an Israeli soldier.
Thomas Hurndall, thought to be in his early 20s and possibly from the Manchester area, was believed to be brain dead but still breathing, according to the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).
Nicholas Dure, 19, from Dundee, an ISM volunteer in Rafah, told The Scotsman the young Briton had arrived five days ago.
Ghassan Andoni, an ISM founder, said Mr Hurndall was among volunteers who had hoped to place a tent as a kind of shield in front of a mosque in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, so people could pray free from the threat of Israeli gunfire.
Mr Dure said that when the volunteers got to the site, however, they found "a tank was shooting at people" and they decided to leave.
He said his colleague "saw some children and a woman in the area who could have been shot. He went towards them along with an Italian volunteer and someone picked him off in the head. He was trying to shield them and get them out of the way."
Dr Jihad Abu Daya, who treated Mr Hurndall at the European Hospital in Khan Yunis, said he required surgery that could not be performed in Gaza.
"We stopped the bleeding by compression, and gave him fluid and blood. His life is in danger and he needs surgical intervention"
Mr Abu Daya said the Briton had multiple fractures in the skull. "The bullet went in from the side of his head and out the back of the head," he said. Mr Hurndall is scheduled to be transferred to another hospital.
Military sources said the incident was under investigation. They said soldiers in the Rafah camp reported shooting dead a Palestinian gunman in uniform who had opened fire on their outpost at about the same time Mr Hurndall was killed.
However, Palestinian security sources and hospital officials said they knew of no Palestinian casualties in Rafah yesterday.
It was the second time in a week that a foreigner volunteering on behalf of the Palestinians has been seriously wounded by army gunfire. A month ago, an Israeli army bulldozer driver killed Rachel Corey, 23, a US university student who was blocking the vehicle from demolishing a home in Rafah.
Tom Wallace of the IMS said the incident happened in a residential area, and children had come to watch the activists’ protest, as they often did.
He said shots were being fired over the protesters’ heads from one of two Israeli watch-towers nearby. "The activists and all the women and kids decided to move away from the area," Mr Wallace said.
"They were moving very slowly, and he was standing in front of the women and kids to protect them while they were moving. They were trying to evacuate the area and that is when he was shot.
"This is a residential area - there’s nothing but kids and women at this time," Mr Wallace said.
"As the activists walk around, kids like to follow them. They were climbing all over the roadblocks and the activists decided that it was best to leave."
Rafah is the site of a massive house demolition campaign by the Israeli army and houses Palestinian fighters grouped into an alliance called the Popular Resistance Committee.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said last night that Mr Hurndall’s family had been informed.