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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 June, 2004, 07:55 GMT 08:55 UK
Israeli army probes MP 'shooting'
Crispin Blunt MP
Crispin Blunt said UN officers advised them to leave the area
The Israeli army is investigating claims by a group of British MPs that they were shot at during a fact-finding trip to the Gaza Strip.

The cross-party group said bullets passed over their heads when they stopped in Rafah.

MPs Huw Irranca-Davies and Crispin Blunt, and Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Northover were travelling with United Nations officers.

Lady Northover said one bullet hit a wall about 10ft above her head.

"I thought 'they're trying to kill us'," she told BBC News Online.

The group was visiting the site where UK student Tom Hurndall was killed, near a Palestinian refugee camp.

Speaking from the West Bank city of Hebron on Saturday, Lady Northover said they would be demanding an explanation and apology from the Israeli ambassador to Britain when they returned on Monday.

I wondered if I was going to make it
Lady Northover

The Israeli Army said it was not aware of the alleged shooting but would investigate.

It emphasised that the delegation of politicians did not co-ordinate their arrival with either the foreign ministry or defence ministry.

A formal complaint was only received after the claim was made in the media, said the Army.

An Israeli embassy source said it was unclear whether shots had been fired, and if so by whom.

'Extremely frightening'

He said the exchange of fire between both sides was "commonplace" in the area and had not necessarily come from Israeli forces.

The group had emerged from their UN vehicle at around 1600 local time (1300 BST) on Thursday when they heard a burst of machine gun fire, said Conservative MP Mr Blunt.

The site, near the spot where Mr Hurndall was killed last April, is the scene of the demolition of Palestinian homes by the Israeli authorities.

Mr Irranca-Davies said the first he knew of what was happening was when he heard the rattle of a machine gun.

"We withdrew to the jeeps and as we were getting in, it was followed by some pretty accurate warning shots which fired above our heads and hit a building. It was a pretty clear indication they didn't want us there.

"It was extremely frightening.

"I will be taking it up with Jack Straw and the Foreign Office because it's simply not acceptable," he added.

A Foreign Office spokesman said it was in touch with the MPs and seeking an explanation from the Israeli Government.

'Indiscriminate violence'

Lady Northover told BBC News Online when shots rang out she wondered if she would make it back to their vehicle.

"Our UN companions later said that if they had wanted to kill us they would have, but it was certainly our group they were targeting and seeking to scare. We were the only adults around.

Huw Irranca Davies MP
Labour MP Huw Irranca-Davies was part of the delegation to Rafah

"One of the most perturbing things was that we had been surrounded by children as we arrived, but they were not terrified by this - it's obviously a fairly common occurrence," she added.

In an earlier statement Lady Northover, the Liberal Democrats' international development spokesperson in the Lords, said the incident had shown her "the indiscriminate violence faced by Palestinians on a daily basis".

She and Mr Blunt said the action may have been an attempt to stop the group seeing the effect of Israel's policy of demolishing Palestinian housing in Gaza.

The group's fact-finding visit was arranged through the British consul-general in Jerusalem.

Mr Hurndall, 22, from Tufnell Park, north London, was shot while trying to help Palestinian children to safety in Rafah.

An Israeli soldier is being tried for the killing.

Trial of Israeli soldier resumes
09 Jun 04  |  London

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