Dichter aide shot by sniper near Gaza

Gill says it was upsetting to hear Labor MK Danny Yatom and other politicians who criticized Dichter.

mati gill 88 224 (photo credit: Netanya Hoffman)
mati gill 88 224
(photo credit: Netanya Hoffman)
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter's bureau chief Mati Gill, who was shot near the border with the Gaza Strip on Friday, vowed on Saturday night to lead more tour groups to the same location if the relevant security agencies permit him. Gill joined Dichter in leading a 15-member delegation of the Board of Governors of the Canada Israel Committee to a lookout point over the Gaza Strip. The group came under sniper fire that hit Gill's back and backside. After getting hit, Gill crawled behind a tour bus out of the line of fire until he was evacuated to Ashkelon's Barzilai Hospital, where he was listed as lightly wounded. Gill said that he had brought many groups to Sderot and the Gaza periphery and he would continue to do so despite the incident. "The first thing that went through my head when they wheeled me into the hospital was Dichter saying at a ceremony where a new Torah was dedicated in Sderot the day before that they will keep shooting Kassams and firing bullets and we will respond with more such ceremonies," said Gill, who was raised a Conservative Jew in Columbus, Ohio. Gill said it was upsetting to hear Labor MK Danny Yatom and other politicians who criticized Dichter for risking the lives of himself and the Canadians by bringing them so close to the border. "It has been frustrating for me to hear that we shouldn't go here or there, that we should run for cover," Gill said. "It's the terrorists who should be afraid to go near the border and not any Israeli or tourist who visits our country. We should take the battle to the other side. "That's the ideology I grew up with in my Zionist education both in Ohio and in Israel as an IDF officer for six years." Speaking to Israel Radio Saturday, Yatom said that by taking such a large group of people to the lookout, Dichter "drew attention" to himself from Gaza terrorists. He said it was very different when a minister tours Sderot with a group, since the Red Color siren gives prior warning of an imminent attack. "Think what would have happened if the shooting would have been more severe or, God forbid, if someone would have been killed. We would have all lambasted Dichter," said Yatom. The IDF said Friday that while the lookout point visited by Dichter's group was considered "under threat" and was defined as a "target" for Palestinian terror groups in Gaza, visits there were not prohibited. Abu Obeida, spokesman of the Hamas military wing, Izzadin Kassam, claimed that the group knew about the visit and had targeted Dichter. "Hamas had prior knowledge that Dichter was planning to visit the area but the exact time or location were unknown. However, when a delegation was spotted in a fortified convoy, we concluded that the senior figure was there and the snipers prepared to shoot," he said. However, Eli Azran, the coordinator of the Canadian delegation, rejected the Hamas claim. Speaking to Israel Radio on Saturday, Azran asserted that Hamas could not have known that Dichter was visiting the region. He said there were dozens of young and old people on the trip and that the sniper fire was random and could have hit any member of the delegation. Azran commended the 70 Canadian Jews for their conduct. He said the tour's participants, who had come under fire for the first time, were not alarmed and even asked to continue the tour after Gill was hit. Similarly, Dichter told Army Radio on Friday that he didn't believe the shots had been aimed at him, but at the Canadian group. The incident was the second time in recent weeks that a Dichter aide has been hurt in a Palestinian attack. In late February, one of his bodyguards was lightly wounded in a rocket attack on southern Israel as he prepared for the public security minister's visit. Several other groups scrambled to claim responsibility for the attack, including a militant offshoot of Fatah, and two little-known radical Islamic groups inspired by al-Qaida, the Army of the Nation and a hitherto unknown group called Defenders of Al-Aksa. In the wake of the shooting attack, security cabinet ministers said Friday night that attacks from Gaza were intolerable and targeted killings were an insufficient deterrence, stressing that a completely different deterrence measure must be found. Additionally, senior officials in Jerusalem said that Gaza terrorists were trying to continue to attack Israel with rockets, mortar shells and sniper fire but to a degree that would not draw a large-scale response from Israel. The officials said that in the next few days the IDF would be asked to present the security cabinet with a plan of action to stop the attacks from Gaza, Israel Radio reported. Earlier Friday, farmers who toured the fields of Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, along the Gaza border, in a show of solidarity were greeted by sniper fire from the Palestinian side of the border fence. No one was wounded in the attack. The farmers are being attacked by Palestinian snipers on almost a daily basis. Three months ago, an Ecuadorian volunteer at the kibbutz was killed by a sniper. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and aides to President Shimon Peres called Gill as did friends and family members from around the world. Among the well-wishers were American Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein. Gill, 28, moved to Israel with his parents when he was 12. In high school, he got involved with the Noam Conservative youth group. During a trip to Poland in 11th grade, he looked around Treblinka and decided it was going to be his mission to work for the safety and security of the country. He served in the army for six years and then studied law at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. He is currently finishing a degree in law and government and has been Dichter's bureau chief since he entered politics more than two years ago. Netanya Hoffman and AP contributed to this report