Gunman shoots 16 at Israel bus stop

Army commandos kill Hamas bomb-makers in West Bank raid

January 23, 2002|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - In an attack that targeted the heart of Jerusalem, a Palestinian gunman opened fire yesterday at a bus stop packed with people returning home from work, killing 2 and wounding 14. The gunman was killed in a firefight with police.

Witnesses said the gunman calmly walked along Jaffa Road, the city's main shopping street, wearing a green jacket and an M-16 rifle attached to a shoulder harness - making him look like an Israeli soldier, a common sight in Jerusalem.

In pouring rain at dusk, he stood in front of a cellular phone store, yelled "God is great!" in Arabic and sprayed the bus stop with bullets. He apparently reloaded his weapon twice as passengers and pedestrians collapsed from wounds or ran in fright.

The shooting occurred shortly after Israeli commandos raided a suspected bomb-making factory in the West Bank city of Nablus and killed four members of the Islamic militant group Hamas.

On Jaffa Road, seven people at the bus stop were seriously wounded. Two died hours later, and four others remained in serious condition, the Associated Press reported. Thirty-nine people were injured by flying glass.

Kiosk windows shattered, and bullets pierced store windows across the four-lane street. One woman was wounded in the chest as she stood in a clothing store. A police officer shot the gunman dead in a 30-second firefight.

"I saw into his eyes," said the officer, Sgt. Hanan Ben-Naim, 26. "He was calm, with hate."

The Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant wing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah political faction, claimed responsibility for the attack. Five days earlier, a gunman from the militant group killed six Israelis at a girl's coming-of-age party in Hadera, in northern Israel.

The Aqsa Martyrs Brigades had threatened to retaliate for the death of a leader, Raed Karmi, in an apparent Israeli assassination nine days ago.

Israeli officials said commandos in Nablus killed the four Hamas members during a firefight inside a building being used to make bombs. Three were described as experts who built bombs used in terror attacks dating to 1997 that left more than 50 Israelis dead.

Israeli officials said two of the men were on a most-wanted list given to Palestinian officials by a U.S. peace envoy, but were never detained. Officials said soldiers found detailed maps of Israel, along with bomb belts used by suicide bombers, guns, ammunition, and computer disks and books containing instructions on building explosive devices.

Palestinian officials said Israeli soldiers gunned down the four in cold blood - three shot by masked soldiers as they lay on mattresses and another, dressed only in his underwear, shot in a shower stall. Hamas promised to wage a "fierce war" against Israel, saying, "Israelis will shed tears of blood for their actions."

Israeli authorities vowed to answer the latest bloodshed in Jerusalem with new military action. Palestinian officials close to Arafat condemned the attack on civilians and pleaded for the United States to intervene to prevent more bloodshed.

But further violence seemed inevitable.

"We are in a war that is taking place at home, not in some faraway battlefield," said Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert.

Hamas members focused some of their anger on Arafat, who as part of an earlier bid to restart peace talks with Israel had jailed Palestinian militants. About 2,000 Hamas supporters rioted yesterday at the jail in Nablus and demanded their release.

Protesters forced open the gates and threw stones at Palestinian police who responded with gunfire. Two men were hit, and one later died. To calm the crowd, jailers released the brother of a man killed by Israeli soldiers during yesterday's raid.

There is growing concern that Arafat, who called for a cease-fire on Dec. 16, is now sounding a more defiant tone, telling visitors Monday that he is willing to die a martyr for Palestinian independence.

Noting an Israeli tank parked at his doorstep that has kept him under siege for seven weeks, Arafat said: "We don't know how to retreat, we know how to advance."

Israeli officials continued yesterday to demand that Arafat crack down on militant groups, noting that shootings that have left 10 Israelis dead and more than 50 wounded in recent days were the work of a faction under the control of the political party he heads.

Hezbollah television in Lebanon identified the Jerusalem gunman as Said Ibrahim Ramadan, 24, from a village near Nablus.

In Jerusalem, police have been on high alert and posted at nearly every downtown street corner, particularly Jaffa Road, known as "street of the bombers" because of the frequency of attacks there.

Liat Moshe, 24, who works at a cellular phone shop, said she saw the gunman walking calmly along the crowded street, and thought at first that he was an Israeli soldier.

"I didn't even pay much attention to him," she said.

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