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US Calls for Inquiry into Death of American Crushed by Israeli Bulldozer - 2003-03-18

The United States says it has raised concern with Israel "at the highest level" over Sunday's death of an American protester crushed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza.

The State Department is expressing deep regret over the death of American protester Rachel Corrie, and is calling on the Israeli government and army to conduct an immediate and full investigation into the circumstances of the incident Sunday in Rafah in the southern Gaza strip.

The 23-year-old college student from the western U.S. state of Washington was run over by an Israeli military bulldozer as she and other activists from a group called the International Solidarity Movement tried to prevent the army from tearing down a Palestinian owned house.

A spokeswoman here, Lynn Cassel, said the United States has expressed its concern over the death to Israel at the highest level and looks forward to hearing the findings of an inquiry into the matter that Israeli authorities have already promised.

She reiterated U.S. understanding for Israel's right to defend itself against acts of terror and violence, but again urged Israel to take "all appropriate precautions" to prevent the death or injury to innocent civilians or damage to the civilian infrastructure of Palestinian areas.

An Israeli military statement expressed sorrow over the death of Ms. Corrie, though saying that she and her associates had been acting "irresponsibly" by intentionally inserting themselves in a combat zone. It said visibility in the heavily-armored bulldozer was limited and that the operator had not seen her.

Ms. Corrie's colleagues insisted she had been in plain view and that the bulldozer continued to advance despite vigorous waving and megaphone appeals by fellow protesters.

Amnesty International condemned the death, and called for a suspension of transfers of military goods such as bulldozers to Israel.

The United States has repeatedly criticized Israel's practice of destroying the family homes of terrorist suspects, saying it amounts to collective punishment and exacerbates the humanitarian situation in Palestinian areas.

Earlier this month, it appealed for added precautions by Israel after a pregnant women in Gaza was killed by falling debris as the army demolished houses said to have been used by suicide bombers.