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Doctors in West Bank village blame three deaths on Israeli curfew

April 15, 1997

ZURIF, West Bank (AP) _ Doctors and residents in this Palestinian village say three villagers died after soldiers enforcing a strict Israeli army curfew barred critically ill patients from reaching hospitals.

The dead include a stillborn infant, an 80-year-old woman who inhaled tear gas fired by troops during clashes, and a man with breathing difficulties.

The army says soldiers at roadblocks ringing the village have orders to let medical emergencies pass, and denied the three deaths were linked to the army restrictions.

Zurif has been under curfew since March 21, when a Zurif resident and member of the Muslim militant group Hamas detonated a bomb in a Tel Aviv cafe, killing himself and three Israeli women. The Shin Bet security service later uncovered a Hamas cell in Zurif that had killed a total of 11 Israelis.

The three deaths have embittered the villagers.

Mohammed Kadi, 61, said his 80-year-old mother collapsed Friday after a tear gas canister, fired by Israeli troops trying to disperse rioters, landed near her porch where she was sitting.

Kadi said he tried to take his mother to a hospital but was turned away at an Israeli army checkpoint, one of several ringing the village. Kadi tried a back road, but his mother died on the way.

In another case, Afrikia Abu Reis, nine months pregnant, called a Hebron maternity clinic because she couldn’t feel her fetus moving. Doctors told her to come in immediately, but Abu Reis said soldiers at the checkpoint would not let her pass.

She called again three days later and an ambulance took her from the village using back roads. Dr. Abdel Raouf Shabaneh said the fetus had died in the womb and said if she had come in earlier ``we could have saved the baby.″

In the other case, Khaled Arar, 64, collapsed Monday morning with breathing difficulties.

Village doctor Ibrahim Hor put him in a car and took him to the Israeli army checkpoint. ``We argued for 15 minutes with the soldiers. When the patient continued vomiting, our driver just broke through the roadblock,″ Hor said. Arar died on the way to the hospital.

Israeli government spokesman Moshe Fogel said the army investigated the Palestinian claims, and added that soldiers in the past had been prosecuted for making improper judgments.

``In this case, the initial inquiry showed no such improper behavior was involved,″ he said. ``I don’t think we can be blamed for every death in the village.″