Murderer took Israeli wife's frantic cell call

Stranger answers: `I just killed your husband' in Ramallah

Details of mob rage emerge

Israel grieves for slain reservists

October 14, 2000|By Mark Matthews and Ann LoLordo | Mark Matthews and Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - Hani Avrahami, the wife of one of the two Israelis killed by a Palestinian mob in Ramallah, heard from her husband's killers on a cell phone while he was being murdered Thursday.

She was surfing the Internet that afternoon and saw a report of Israeli soldiers in trouble in Ramallah. Anxious, she called the mobile phone her husband Yosef had taken with him to reserve duty.

No one answered at first. She tried again. This time a voice asked: "Who are you looking for?"

"Yossi, my husband," said Hani.

"I just killed your husband," said the voice.

It was another gruesome moment in a horrifying national experience as the families of the dead Israelis buried one yesterday and prepared to bury another - Avrahami - tomorrow.

Burying his brother Vadim yesterday, Mikhail Nourezitz was at a loss to fathom the Palestinian mob that killed him.

"Human beings can't do such things. Only animals. We cannot make peace with the sons of Satan," he told mourners at a cemetery in Or Akiva, north of Tel Aviv, as they lay his brother Vadim in his grave.

But then he swallowed his bitterness long enough for an urgent appeal to mourners: "Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, Jews, I beg of you, don't deteriorate to their level. Don't go out on a lynch. Let our army handle it."

Israel was still numb yesterday from the oft-played television footage of a fierce crowd beating and stabbing the two Israelis to death at the Palestinian police station in Ramallah.

Vadim Nourezitz was 33, a newly married Russian immigrant. Yosef Avrahami, 39, was a toy salesman and father of three.

There was no question that the two Israelis were brutally murdered. But divergent Israeli and Palestinian accounts left several questions unanswered.

How many soldiers?

The biggest was the number of Israeli soldiers who were present when their civilian Ford Escort ended up in Palestinian-controlled Ramallah, some distance from the nearest Israeli military post.

The Israeli army says there were only Nourezitz and Avrahami.

"We're checking reports talking about one more Israeli, but we don't have evidence. We don't have any evidence of missing soldiers or settlers," said Army spokesman Yarden Vatikay.

Other accounts, collected from Palestinian witnesses who refused to be identified, a Palestinian journalist and the Israeli press, help to reconstruct what happened.

Palestinians at the scene say there were three or four men in the car. One Palestinian who spoke with nearby residents said two Israelis managed to escape the car as the mob smashed its windows.

One was attacked and his face bloodied.

But as the bulk of the mob followed the two earlier captives, the second two were put into an ambulance. A Palestinian medic was hit by someone in the crowd for helping the Jews, but the ambulance managed to leave the scene, the Palestinian said he was told.

Another unanswered question was why the Israelis entered Ramallah, a city fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

The Israeli Army says they apparently strayed in by mistake through side roads on their way to their base. They did not pass through one of the Israeli checkpoints that in the past week have barred Israelis from Palestinian-controlled territory.

The Hebrew-language Yediot Ahranot newspaper said the two soldiers had been told to report to a nearby Israeli base at Beit El to serve as drivers. On their way, they made a wrong turn, passed through an Israeli roadblock 50 yards from another base, Ofer, and kept driving toward Ramallah.

Driving past the Ofer entrance, the soldiers, who were in uniform and carrying guns, came upon the Palestinian checkpoint less than two miles away.

Stopped by police

Palestinian police at the roadblock ordered the two Israelis out of the car and grabbed their weapons, according to Yediot. The Palestinians got into the car with the soldiers and, at gunpoint, told them to drive to Ramallah. The Ford Escort drove into the city and toward a school near a small Palestinian police station.

Accounts of what happened next vary, but all concur on the scene's awesome rage and bloodlust.

Yediot reports that once in Ramallah, the Israelis were forced to walk to the police station and taken inside. Israeli government spokesman Nachman Shai said the pair were "given to the mob."

The Palestinian who talked to witnesses said trouble began when the car approached a funeral pro- cession for a young Palestinian killed in anti-Israeli riots.

A young man in the crowd spotted the car with Israelis inside and shouted "mustarabim," the name for the hated Israeli commandos who operate undercover in Palestinian territory. Other witnesses said members of the crowd noticed weapons inside the car.

The Israelis flatly deny that the soldiers were part of an undercover unit.

The car tried to back up, only to be blocked by an angry mob. Two soldiers were pulled from the front seats.

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