Palestinian storms party, kills 6 Israelis, hurts dozens

Israeli officials vow to retaliate

missiles hit Arab security post Palestinian gunman kills 6, hurts dozens

January 18, 2002|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - A Palestinian stormed into a banquet hall in northern Israel last night and opened fire on families celebrating a girl's coming-of-age party, killing six Israelis and wounding at least two dozen before his assault rifle jammed and he was overpowered by guests.

Several people beat the gunman with chairs and beer bottles and dragged him to a sidewalk outside the hall in Hadera, where a police officer killed him with five shots to the head.

The attack comes after days of escalating violence that ended a brief cease-fire and destroys any immediate hope of restoring order amid a Palestinian-Israeli conflict that has claimed more than 1,000 lives in 15 months.

The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant wing of Yasser Arafat's mainstream Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in retaliation for the killing of one of the group's leaders, Raed Karmi, Monday in the West Bank city of Tulkarm. The group says Karmi was the victim of an Israeli assassination.

Israeli officials swept aside Arafat's condemnation of the Hadera shootings, blaming him for failing to dismantle militant groups and promising a swift and painful retaliatory strike.

"Israel will not remain indifferent when our people are killed," said government spokesman Avi Pazner. "We are going to respond in a manner that will teach the Palestinian Authority a lesson they will not forget."

Early this morning, Israeli F-16 warplanes fired missiles at a Palestinian security headquarters in Tulkarm, the Israeli army said. One policeman was killed and at least 18 people - 12 policemen and six civilians - were wounded, Palestinian hospital officials said.

Police did not immediately release the names of the Hadera victims, but it appeared that the guest of honor, 12-year-old Nina Kardashov, whose picture was displayed next to a flower arrangement on one of the tables, was not among the casualties. According to some reports, her grandfather was killed in the attack.

"I heard noise and thought it was fireworks," the girl's father, Constantin Kardashov, told the Reuters news agency. "I saw a guy with an automatic weapon. My father, brother, cousin and friend were all hit. How long can this situation last?"

Inside David's Palace, the hall where Nina had been celebrating her bat mitzvah, tables were overturned and others bore half-eaten meals and bottles of wine. Tablecloths were used as stretchers to evacuate the wounded.

In a statement faxed to Reuters, the al-Aqsa Brigades identified the gunman as Abed al Salem Tsadek Hasson, 26, from a village on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Nablus. His name was broadcast over mosque loudspeakers in Tulkarm during street celebrations after the attack.

The militant group killed two Israelis and a Palestinian - an apparent case of mistaken identity - in the West Bank earlier this week. Israeli soldiers killed an al-Aqsa Brigades leader yesterday during a gunbattle near Nablus.

Islamic militant groups have given mixed signals this week about whether Arafat's cease-fire orders Dec. 16 still stand. Palestinian leaders have accused Israeli officials of using violence to provoke reactions from militant groups and thus justify a military escalation.

Arafat has tried to calm the militant groups and even ordered the arrest of the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to appease U.S. and Israeli officials who are demanding a large-scale crackdown.

The arrest triggered demonstrations outside Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah and a threat by Popular Front leaders to kill top Palestinian officials if their leader is not released. But U.S. officials demanded yesterday that Arafat take further action.

"As leader of the Palestinian Authority, ... Arafat must take immediate action against those responsible for these acts and confront the infrastructure that perpetuates terror and violence," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said in a statement last night.

Israel's security Cabinet had met at midnight Wednesday to decide how to react to the earlier shootings, and left-leaning Labor Party members talked Prime Minister Ariel Sharon out of launching a harsh military response. Instead, Israeli troops blockaded several Palestinian cities.

Right-wing members of the government criticized the relatively tepid response, done to avoid escalating violence, and said last night that Arafat's cease-fire was nothing more than a public relations stunt that lured Israel into a state of complacency.

"Anyone who thinks that there was quiet and no terror is wrong," said Israel's public security minister, Uzi Landau, a member of Sharon's Likud Party. "Arafat is a terrorist. We have to fight him properly, like the Americans are fighting [Osama] bin Laden. We are in a war."

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