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Friday, 30 August, 2002, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
Dart bombs 'killed four Palestinians'
Palestinian officials have condemned Israel's reported use of tank shells which are said to have sprayed thousands of metal darts at a target in Gaza, killing four Palestinian civilians.

Israeli media said the Israeli army confirmed it used flechettes in an operation near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim, south of Gaza City, on Thursday.

Palestinian medical officials said the victims were cut to shreds after being hit by the tiny metal darts, which are dispersed by a tank shell.

Israel expressed regret for the loss of life, saying the army had opened fire on suspicious figures seen crawling towards the settlement.

A Palestinian woman, her two sons and their cousin were killed when the shell landed on a Bedouin encampment in the village of Sheikh Ajlin.

Deadly weapon

The Palestinian Health Minister, Riyad Zanoun, said Israel had fired flechettes, which he said were illegal under international law.

Israeli soldier on tank
The flechettes are packed into tank shells

Leading defence journal, Jane's Defence Weekly, says the use of flechettes in war is not prohibited by the Geneva Convention.

The flechettes are finned inch-long darts, thousands of which are packed into tank shells and released at high speed with devastating results.

Israel has used the weapon before in the conflict with the Palestinians.

In June last year, three Palestinian women were killed when the army fired flechettes at suspected militants, also near Netzarim.

The Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem, has urged Israel to stop using the weapon.

Uncommon use

An Israeli military spokesman told BBC News Online that flechettes were not a banned weapon and said they were not commonly used by the Israeli army.

He would not comment on whether flechettes were fired in the operation near Netzarim, saying only "we used tank shells"..

He said flechettes were used for their precision, adding they were no more deadly than regular tank shells.

The Israeli Defence Minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, has ordered an inquiry into the deaths of the Palestinians.


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29 Aug 02 | Middle East
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