Palestinian bomb-disposal expert killed on the job

Hazem Abu Murad was among at least five people who were killed when an Israeli ordnance exploded while a bomb squad was trying to disarm it near a housing complex in northern Gaza.

Hazem Abu Murad, second right, was one of five people killed when an Israeli ordnance exploded while a Palestinian bomb squad tried to disarm it. Heidi Levine for The National
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GAZA CITY // A Gazan bomb-disposal expert featured in The National for his work saving Palestinian lives from Israel’s unexploded missiles was killed on Wednesday when a piece of ordnance that his team was working on detonated.

The explosion in northern Gaza also killed an Italian journalist, a Palestinian translator and two other members of the bomb-disposal squad.

Last week, The National interviewed Hazem Abu Murad, the chief of the police team's field operations, as he and his colleagues dealt with unexploded Israeli artillery shells and bombs left over from its military offensive on Gaza that began on July 8.

Mr Abu Murad, 39, a father of five, spoke about the perils of his job, which he had been doing for 15 years.

“This is dangerous work. It’s life and death. One small tweak in the wrong direction, even a millimetre, and you’re dead,” Mr Abu Murad said on August 7.

He had described the main danger during his work came from incoming Israeli fire while his team, part of Gaza’s Hamas-run police, responded to reports of unexploded munitions in homes, hospitals and fields.

“Of course I’m not afraid,” he said at the time, as he oversaw the disposal of a massive bomb that lay in an field in central Gaza. It was droppd from an F-16 warplane.

His squad lacked essential equipment for bomb disposal, such as flak jackets, which they said was a consequence of the siege that Israel placed on Gaza after Hamas took control in 2007.

They used to receive training from European advisers before the takeover by Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Mr Abu Murad had estimated there to be about 2,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance left over from Israel’s relentless bombardment. Some of the munitions his team dismantled were Hamas rockets that failed to reach Israel.

The two other members of his team killed were Bilal Muhammad Al Sultan, 27 and Taysir Ali Al Hum, 40, the Palestinian news agency Maan said.

The blast also killed Simone Camilli, an Italian video journalist who had worked with the Associated Press since 2005 and reported regularly from Gaza.

He was the first foreign journalist to die in the conflict that has killed nearly 2,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians. All but three of the 67 Israelis killed in the fighting that began on July 8 were soldiers.

“He was my brother. I have known him for almost 10 years. He was so happy to be with me working in Gaza,” Najib Jobain, chief producer in Gaza for the Associated Press, said of Mr Camilli.

Ali Shehda Abu Afash, who was working as a translator for Mr Camilli, was also killed in the blast next to the Neda housing complex near Beit Lahiya.

The area came under heavy Israeli bombardments, with buildings struck so hard and so many times that they looked like they were formed by melted concrete.

A 36-year-old resident of the Palestinian territory, Mr Abu Afash left behind a wife and two children aged five and six.

The victims of the blast were taken to the Kamal Adwan hospital in northern Gaza. Associated Press photographer Hatem Moussa was one of four people badly injured.

Moussa told a colleague that they were filming the scene when an initial explosion went off. He said he was hit by shrapnel and began to run away when there was a second explosion. The blast knocked him unconscious and he woke up in a hospital.

The explosion came as Egyptian mediators struggled to extend a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.

The Palestinian delegations demand that Israel lift the siege, which has been tightened over the last year by Egyptian authorities. Israeli officials have been reluctant to meet that demand, but both sides have expressed tentative willingness to allow forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, to play a role in Gaza’s reconstruction.

* Additional reporting by Associated Press