Daily Israel Report

Investigation of Arabs Rescued from Minefield Raises Suspicions

Arabs said they entered a minefield 'for a picnic.' The story, which ended badly with a botched copter rescue, leaves many thorny questions.
By Avraham Zuroff
First Publish: 3/13/2009, 10:37 AM

Channel 10

An Arab man entered a minefield near Sdeh Trumot in northern Israel with his friends, ostensibly to find a nice spot to picnic and to catch porcupines. But the story, which ended in the man's death after a botched copter rescue, leaves many thorny questions, including -- what were the Arabs doing in a clearly marked minefield?

The two rescued Arabs were brought to the Beit She’an precinct for questioning. They were asked why they had entered a closed military area, surrounded by barbed wire, and clearly marked as a minefield. They claimed that they did not see the fence or the signs. The police persisted, asking if the three hikers were aware that they had entered a minefield.

One of the possibilities still not ruled out is that the three entered the marked area in order to take apart the mines and steal the explosives inside them for use in terrorist activities. The suspicions were denied by the two during the investigation. They continued to repeat their alibi that they did not notice the signs.

The three Arabs, who hail from the northern village of Musheirfeh in Wadi Ara, reportedly explored the nearby Beit She’an area in northern Israel on Wednesday afternoon. They entered a fenced-in area, which was clearly marked as a minefield, according to police accounts. Alah Agbariah, 24, stepped on a mine, setting it off. His foot was severed in the blast.

IDF sappers were summoned to the area to attempt to rescue the three, two of whom suffered no injuries. When the security forces assessed that the mined terrain would make it too hard to evacuate the hikers, the forces ordered an IDF helicopter to rescue them from the area.

However, as Alah Agbariah was hoisted 60 feet (20 meters), he fell out of the harness and plummeted to his death. The fall, which was documented on video, will be studied intensively to try to find clues of what went wrong. The IDF's elite medical evacuation unit (Unit 669) was astonished by the unprecedented botch-up.

Response from the IDF was quick in coming with the IDF’s assurance that the cable did not snap. Israel Air Force commander Maj.-Gen. Ido Nachshon ordered the formation of a committee on Wednesday evening to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of the man who fell from the military helicopter.