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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

from the IDF Spokesman

Rafah Incident, 19 May 2004

Today's incident in Rafah is a very grave incident and the IDF expresses deep sorrow over the loss of civilian lives.

At no point in this incident was intentional fire opened in the direction of civilians.

A large procession of several hundreds demonstrators, among them gunmen, organized by the Palestinian Authority, left central Rafah along the main road towards IDF forces in Tel-Sultan.

As the crowd, with the gunmen among them, drew near IDF forces, a warning fire of a single missile was fired from a helicopter into an open area, not towards the demonstrators.

In addition, flares were fired in the air to deter the crowd and to prevent endangering the demonstrators. As this did not deter the crowd and they continued to converge on the troops, machine gun fire was opened towards a wall of an abandoned structure along the side of the road and then four tank shells were fired at this abandoned structure.

It is possible that the causalities were a result of the tank fire on the abandoned structure. The details of the incident continue to be investigated.

It should be mentioned that the scene of the incident is an area of combat and an area of frequent exchanges of fire. The road has been rigged with explosive charges planted by the Palestinians. The IDF has not yet cleared the road of these explosives.

At this stage it is difficult to determine the cause of the civilian casualties. The incident is being investigated thoroughly at this time.

The IDF has approached the Palestinians and offered medical assistance, including the evacuation of the casualties to Israeli hospitals.