Palestinian opens fire on bus, killing 2

More than 40 wounded

Israeli troops withdraw from West Bank city

November 05, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- A Palestinian armed with an M-16 assault rifle stood on a sidewalk and opened fire yesterday on a packed Israeli bus carrying schoolchildren, killing a 16-year-old U.S. native and another teen and wounding 42 others at a busy junction in the French Hill suburb.

An armed civilian and a border police officer shot and killed the gunman, who in seconds fired a full clip from his machine gun, peppering the bus with bullets and shattering nearly every window as terrified riders dove under the seats and began reciting Psalms.

The shooting occurred at an intersection of roads linking Jerusalem to suburbs, a settlement and the Dead Sea. It is typically a bottleneck of buses, cars and hitchhikers, and has been the site of two other terrorist attacks this year.

The 16-year-old was identified as Shoshana Ben-Yishai of the Betar Illit settlement. Israeli news media said she had moved with her parents from Long Island, N.Y., when she was 5 years old. The other victim, was a 14-year-old boy, Meni Regev. Another teen-age girl was clinging to life early today with a bullet wound to the head.

It was the second such attack in Israel in a week. Two gunmen opened fired at a bus stop in the northern city of Hadera Oct. 28, killing four women.

"He started shooting, and I started screaming," said Mazal Amsalem, 45, who was on the bus but was not hurt. "Everyone got on the floor. It is a miracle nothing happened to me. It was total panic. He was shooting without stopping."

The radical group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack and identified the gunman as Hatem Yaein al-Shuweiki, 24, of Hebron. Police were investigating how he had infiltrated Jerusalem from the virtually sealed-off West Bank.

Angry Israeli officials lashed out at Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who wants to negotiate a peace deal but who they say has failed to arrest militants who use terror attacks to thwart cease-fire agreements.

The Israeli army said last night that it had started to withdraw troops from one of four West Bank cities it has occupied for 18 days, saying Qalqilya has remained quiet and did not play a role in yesterday's shooting. Last week, troops withdrew from Bethlehem despite the attack in Hadera.

But the French Hill incident could postpone withdrawals from other areas and prompt the Israeli army to again embark on a campaign of assassinating suspected terrorists. Troops occupying Tulkarm used missile strikes last week to kill a suspected suicide bomber allegedly on the way to an attack.

"Arafat has not taken one step to arrest anyone since he introduced a cease-fire," said Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "That requires us to increase the steps we have to take to spoil any effort on their part to kill people indiscriminately."

Gissin called the attackers "live mortars that are being launched. We have to take care of the launchers."

The Palestinian Authority condemned the attack and said it had ordered "security services to arrest whoever planned and carried out this action and bring them to justice." But it also said Israel was partly to blame because of its assassination policy.

Arafat has said that his police have arrested 60 to 70 extremists, including many top members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which orchestrated the assassination of Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavam Zeevi on Oct. 17.

But there seems to be considerable tension within Arafat's top echelon. Palestinian news media reported that Arafat's two prominent security chiefs, Mohammed Dahlan in Gaza and Jibril Rajoub in the West Bank, say that it is impossible to make arrests because of the increasing power of militant groups on the street."

None of those arrested thus far are on Israeli wanted lists. Officials are investigating whether the French Hill gunman was on such a list. One of the gunmen in last week's Hadera incident not only topped a wanted list, he was a Palestinian police officer who worked for Arafat's security apparatus.

Yesterday's shooting occurred at a junction that links Jerusalem to French Hill, the settlement of Maale Adumim, and to Jericho and the Dead Sea. In February, a Palestinian shot and wounded an Israeli at the intersection. A month later, a suicide bomber linked to the militant group Hamas blew himself up, injuring 30.

Because the junction is considered a prime target, two border police officers are usually stationed there and a camera is trained on it. Grainy black-and-white images broadcast on Israeli television last night showed confusion and people running, but did not pick up the shooting clearly.

Police said the gunman, possibly aided by two others who escaped, waited at the side of the road until the bus slowed for traffic. Running up from behind the vehicle, the gunman opened fire.

Border police Officer Eliad Ela, 19, and a Jewish settler identified only as Marcus opened fire, killing the gunman.

"I looked around the corner of the bus and saw a man shooting all over the place," Ela said. "I shot at him. I saw that he was neutralized. I kicked his gun away and went to help the wounded."

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