Palestinians in disguise kill 4 in settlement

In Israeli-soldier garb, gunmen also wound 7

5-year-old girl among victims

Israel says incident justifies army operations

April 28, 2002|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ADORA, West Bank - Palestinian gunmen dressed in Israeli army uniforms infiltrated this isolated Jewish settlement yesterday, going house-to-house shooting residents, killing four people and wounding seven others before escaping.

Two of the victims, including a 5-year-old girl, were shot to death in their bedrooms. Two others were killed outside during what residents described as 45 terror-filled minutes on the morning of Sabbath usually spent in quiet contemplation or prayer.

Israeli officials said the attack demonstrated the need for the army to continue its operations in the West Bank despite calls by the Bush administration for a full Israeli withdrawal. The Israeli military actions, which began last month after a series of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, have become a major point of friction between the United States and its Arab allies.

The attack could also complicate efforts to end the army's sieges in the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem, and it raised fear among Palestinian officials that the army would enter Hebron, a few miles east of here.

The assailants, two or possibly three gunmen, left behind flower-lined streets littered with bullets and two homes splattered with blood. Israeli soldiers and helicopters responded by searching the area for the gunmen. In mid-afternoon, the army said soldiers on the outskirts of Hebron had shot and killed a Palestinian man who was believed to be one of the attackers. Officials said the man was wearing an army uniform and carrying an M-16 rifle.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack. It came several days after the Israeli army assassinated Marwan Zalloum, the Hebron leader of the Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah party.

It was the first Palestinian attack since Israel declared its sweeping military offensive over six days ago, and the first time in a month that a settlement was targeted. "This is a massacre," said Israeli army Maj. Avner Fuxman, standing in a bedroom where a woman was killed as she lay next to her sleeping husband, who was wounded.

Fuxman, 56, challenged the United Nations team that intends to investigate events in the Jenin refugee camp, where an unknown number of Palestinians were killed, to extend its inquiry to the settlement. "The U.N. needs to come to this room," the general said, standing over a blood-soaked bed and quilt. "Soldiers who have seen war came in here, saw this and cried."

The homes' interiors showed all the signs of carnage and of normal lives abruptly interrupted. Spilled baby food shared space with broken glass on a highchair tray. Leftover bandages and latex paramedic gloves littered floors strewn with toys. Pictures hung on walls pockmarked by bullet holes. Birds still fluttered in their cages; pets dogs roamed the area.

Adora was built in 1985 about 30 miles south of Jerusalem. Its 51 families live atop a steep hill surrounded by a 6-foot-high, barbed-wire fence with views of rocky countryside in every direction.

The gunmen apparently cut through the fence on the east side of the settlement, split up and quickly started their rampage. "This raid was quite carefully planned," said army Gen. Amos Ben-Abraham. "They knew what they were doing."

Residents praying inside a synagogue were the first to hear the gunfire.

Gil Sofer, 42, the settlement's accountant, ran from religious services to his home to get his automatic rifle. Along with an unarmed friend, Yakov Katz, they confronted the gunmen on a street. At first, they thought the men were Israeli soldiers.

"I said, `Don't shoot, I'm Israeli,'" Sofer said. One of the gunmen then shot and killed Sofer's friend. Sofer said he wounded one of the shooters in the shoulder before they ran to a bungalow-style home up the street.

There, they burst through a door and fired, wounding Shiri Shefi and her two young sons. Then, one of the gunmen shot and killed 5-year-old Danielle Shefi as she cowered under her bed, while her injured mother watched.

The children's father, Yakov Shefi, an Israeli policeman, was in the synagogue at the time. He ran to his house when he heard the gunfire but was too late.

Inside Danielle's bedroom, mattresses were overturned and a stuffed teddy bear was propped up next to a window. A child's picture book was on top of a bedspread with pictures of the Disney character Goofy. Three bullet holes were in the wall just over the pillow.

The front door of the house, its windows shattered by bullets, had the names of the children written on small balloons, above which was a sign, "The happy Shefi family."

After the Shefi house, the gunmen went to several other homes, shooting at some from the outside and trying to break into others. Several people were wounded by the firing through their windows.

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