JERUSALEM – A senior U.N. official from Britain was shot and killed Friday in a West Bank U.N. compound during an exchange of fire between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen, doctors and witnesses said.
The victim was identified as Ian Hook, 50, who headed a U.N. project to rebuild homes in the battle-scarred Jenin refugee camp.
An 11-year-old Palestinian boy was also killed and an Irish national wounded in different incidents in the camp, witnesses and a Palestinian human rights group said.
Hook and several other U.N. officials were in a small U.N. compound, consisting of several mobile homes, when the fighting erupted, said Sami Mshasha, a U.N. spokesman.
At the time, Israeli troops had surrounded a nearby hide-out of a wanted Islamic Jihad leader, Abdullah Wahsh, demanding that he surrender.
Palestinian gunmen fired at the troops, and an exchange of fire erupted, Palestinian witnesses said. Hundreds of Palestinian youngsters threw stones at the soldiers, who returned fire and called in helicopter gunships, the witnesses said.
"Several bullets hit the trailer and hit him," Mshasha said. "We managed to send an ambulance to transfer him to the hospital, but he was dead when he reached the hospital."
Britain's Foreign Office confirmed that a British national was killed in the camp.
Capt. Sharon Feingold, an army spokeswoman, said it was not clear yet whether the U.N. official was killed by Israeli or Palestinian fire, and that the incident was under investigation.
She said the army quickly arranged for an ambulance to evacuate Hook.
However, the United Nations said in a statement that Israeli soldiers refused immediate access for the ambulance and that there appeared to have been a delay in getting Hook out. "It is not known at this time whether the delay resulted in the death," the statement said.
Feingold said the army evacuated Hook as quickly as possible.
Forces entered the camp to capture an Islamic Jihad leader who was behind a bomb attack on a bus that killed 14 Israelis last month, Feingold said.
"During the operation there were massive exchanges of fire," Feingold said. "It is still unclear with regards to the circumstances of the U.N. worker being hit."
U.N. officials were trying to contact Israeli authorities to ensure the safety of the Jenin staff. One of Hook's colleagues was on the phone with the director of the United Nations' West Bank operations when Hook was killed, Mshasha said.
The Jenin Hospital director, Mohammed Abu Ghali, said the bullets retrieved from the victim's abdomen were of the kind generally used by Israeli troops.
Hook was the coordinator of a $27 million camp rehabilitation project for UNRWA, the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees.
Hook was the first U.N. foreign official to die during the last two years of Mideast fighting; two local U.N. Palestinian employees have also been killed, Mshasha said.
Peter Hansen, the commissioner general of UNRWA, said the entire agency felt "shock and outrage" at the death and that he sent his condolences to Hook's family.
"I can only hope they take some small comfort and pride in the knowledge that he lost his life trying to save that of others," he said.
At least 19 foreigners have been killed, including a Turkish man and a Swiss woman shot dead by Palestinian gunmen while serving as European monitors in the West bank city of Hebron.
In a separate incident in the camp Friday, an Irish woman was shot in the left thigh.
Caoimhe Butterly, 24, from Dublin, Ireland, is an activist with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement who has been living in the camp for half a year.
Hundreds of foreigners from Europe and the United States have joined the group periodically in the West Bank to support Palestinians and protest Israeli military operations.
Butterly said fighting was so fierce Friday that a few parents passed their children over the walls of the U.N. compound to workers on the other side, thinking they'd be safer there.
Butterly was trying to shepherd some Palestinian children to safety in an alley when she was shot. A group of children carried her to an ambulance on a stretcher. She said the bullet was fired from a tank gunner and passed through her leg, damaging muscle and nerves.
The activist has been living in the camp since April, when the last major Israeli military operation ended there, and said she was planning to stay until Israeli troops leave the West Bank for good.
"I haven't lived a day here that I haven't seen a person killed or wounded," she said.