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Part of the problem is that the sniper fire and rubber-bullet fire aren't as precise as hoped. Ricochets and wind deflection can send sniper bullets off target, killing bystanders or child rioters instead of gunmen. Rubber bullets can be lethal when used at short range.
The army angrily rebuts accusations that it's going over the top. There have been more than 3,100 live-fire incidents in 11 weeks. Such attacks, Eiland says, demand a live-fire reaction--but not, he insists, a free-fire one. Eiland tells TIME that the army is preparing to court-martial a soldier and an officer for firing live rounds when there was no clear threat to their life. But restraint has been a tough sell in Israel. Posters and banners read: LET THE ARMY WIN. Even centrist politicians argue that the army's hands are tied and that its "restraint" costs Israeli lives.
Tell that to the residents of the Aida refugee camp. Last week they became the shooting range in a battle between Israeli soldiers manning the fortress around Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and Palestinian gunmen from the Tanzim militia. The battle was fought with machine guns and helicopter-launched missiles. But it also showed that the Israeli army believes it is fighting with one hand tied behind its back.
Late last Monday, Lieut. Colonel Yossi Mor peered through the 3-in.-thick bulletproof glass on the guard tower at Rachel's Tomb. The Jewish holy site had been under fire from three sides for four hours. Bullets slammed into the glass, bludgeoning it with starfish cracks, like ice on a pond. Mor spotted a muzzle flash from the Tanzim next to Aida's main mosque, 300 yds. away. "They want to make me hit the mosque and get the people more fired up," he thought at the time. Mor picked up the red phone that is on a direct line to his commander, Colonel Marcel Aviv. They spoke quickly, then Aviv listened in as Mor guided a helicopter into place above the target. At Mor's command, five missiles hammered into the refugee camp. Two hit the upper floors of the rough, cinder-block home of Omar Da'ajna. The Palestinian cook later said his children "shook like a tree in a storm" as they sheltered on the ground floor.
By midnight, the Palestinian gunmen stopped shooting. Mor, dour and darkly bearded, watched them pull back from the edge of the graveyard behind the tomb. They had got to within 40 yds. of his men. Mor picked up the red phone and called Aviv again, asking permission to take a squad into Aida to go after the shooters. Aviv was willing to hit the Palestinians hard. He had ordered a grenade machine gun to fire on the Palestinian town of Beit Jala that night, after Tanzim fighters opened up on the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo. But this was too much. Aida is in Area A, under the complete control of Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Sending soldiers in there would be dynamite. "No, Yossi," he said to Mor, "there are orders on this. We'll have to be patient."
4. Gunmen and Thunder
The Tanzim gunmen crouched at the side of the house. They aimed their Russian-made Kalashnikov rifles at the hilltop, where the edge of the Jewish settlement of Bracha glowed faintly through the trees. The bullets whizzed harmlessly through the night. At a range of half a mile, and fired by inexpert marksmen, they were no great threat. Minutes later, the Tanzim cleared out, leaving the residents of this small street on the edge of Nablus to face Israel's retribution. A heavy machine gun ripped through the metal gate that had provided the gunmen with their cover. Across the street, a tank shell thundered into Faisal Malawani's storeroom. The next morning, the charred concrete was still too hot to touch.
Israel's response to Palestinian riots has drawn the criticism of human-rights organizations. But also sometimes problematic is Israel's targeting of Palestinian gunmen who shoot from populated areas. Few argue that the Israelis should not shoot back when they come under fire. Israeli officers assert that they must respond to such attacks with considerable and accurate force. Palestinian sources concede that the Tanzim often fire from built-up areas, hoping Israel will strike back with superior firepower, angering ordinary Palestinians and pushing both Palestinians and Israelis into a yet more radical situation. The imbalance of firepower has inflamed Palestinians almost as much as the death of child rioters.