Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Wednesday March 19, 2003
Israeli forces fired teargas and stun grenades yesterday in an attempt to break up a memorial service for Rachel Corrie, the American peace activist killed by an army bulldozer in Gaza on Sunday.
Witnesses including several dozen foreigners and Palestinian supporters say Israeli armoured vehicles tried to disperse the gathering at the spot in Rafah refugee camp where Ms Corrie was crushed to death.
The 23 year-old activist with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) was trying to prevent the destruction of Palestinian homes by the Israelis when she was hit by the bulldozer.
Joe Smith, a young activist from Kansas City, said about 100 people were gathered to lay carnations and erect a small memorial when the first armoured personnel carrier appeared.
"They started firing teargas and blowing smoke, then they fired sound grenades. After a while it got hectic so we sat down. Then the tank came over and shot in the air," he said. "It scared a lot of Palestinians, especially the shooting made a lot of them run and the teargas freaked people out. But most of us stayed."
Another witness said the army failed to break up the service.
"People were laying carnations at the spot where Rachel was killed when a tank came and fired teargas right on them. Then a core group of the peace activists took an ISM cloth banner to the fence and pinned it up.
"The tank chased after them trying to stop them with teargas but the wind was against the army," she said.
Tensions rose further when a convoy of vehicles, including the bulldozer that killed Ms Corrie, passed the area.
"I don't think it was deliberate but it was pretty insensitive," said Mr Smith.
"I think they had been destroying some buildings elsewhere and had to pass by to get back to their base."