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Last Updated: Friday, 10 September, 2004, 08:21 GMT 09:21 UK
Eyewitness in Jabaliya
By Alan Johnston
BBC correspondent in Jabaliya

Palestinian children watch as a Hamas militant takes a rest during clashes near the Jabaliya refugee camp
There are fears that more children can become caught up in clashes
Running through the eastern edge of the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip is a sandy track called Sikkert Street. All through the day, it was a dangerous place to be.

Israeli troops had taken up a position at one end. Every few minutes they sent bursts of machine gun fire up the road.

Taking cover at the corners were Palestinian militants. They were armed and they wore masks. Most were from the Hamas movement.

And crowding around the fighters were large numbers of Jabaliya's teenagers and boys - some no more than eight or nine years old.

With a mixture of defiance and bravado and stupidity, they peered around the walls at the Israelis. Some would step out into the street, and then scramble for cover when the machine guns roared.

Fear and anger

During the course of the day, three people died in the area around Sikkert Street. According to Palestinian sources, none of them were militants. One of them was Munir Deqqes, a nine-year-old boy.

An injured Palestinian youth is carried after being reportedly shot during clashes with Israeli forces near the Jabaliya refugee camp
Palestinians say none of the victims were militants

"The place is full of fear," said 60-year-old Fatma Abu Qammar. "The kids, the old men, the old women - they're all frightened."

Of the Israeli troops she said: "They're on our land. Why are they doing this to us? Teenagers are dying in the streets."

The Israelis say that they have every right to be at the gates of Jabaliya. They say that they have come to stop groups like Hamas firing rockets from Gaza into neighbouring southern Israel.

Rocket attacks

The militants have stepped up their missile attacks in recent days. This has been in retaliation for Israel's killing of 14 fighters in an air strike on Monday night.

The rockets have become an important part in the armoury of the groups who are fighting Israel's occupation of the Gaza Strip.

But they are actually quite crudely made and often ineffective.

Map of Gaza showing Jabaliya camp

The hundreds that have been fired over the years have rarely caused serious injury or damage - although two Israeli civilians were killed during the summer.

On some waste ground near the middle of Jabaliya, beneath a huge tent, the friends and family of a man called Mohammad Ezzedine had gathered to mourn his death.

He was a tailor. He had been on his way to work in the morning, but when he tried to cross Sikkert Street he was shot in the chest. Recently married, his wife is pregnant with his first child.

His brother Rajab emerged from his grief for a moment to focus on the wider picture.

He said that it was right that Hamas attacked Israel with its rockets. Israelis, he said, were occupying Palestinian land.

As he spoke, Jabaliya echoed to the sound of more gunfire up on Sikkert Street.




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