An Israeli army deserter wearing

JERUSALEM -

August 05, 2005|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM - An Israeli army deserter wearing a uniform and a yarmulke opened fire aboard a bus in an Arab town in northern Israel yesterday, killing four Arabs and wounding a dozen others in an attack that Israeli officials quickly labeled Jewish terrorism.

The 19-year-old gunman, who reportedly had said he boarded the bus to kill Arabs, was beaten to death by an angry mob of Shfaram residents.

Israeli news media said the soldier abandoned his army unit two months ago over his refusal to participate in Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank.

The shooting was quickly condemned as an effort to spark further violence and derail the evacuation, which is to begin in less than two weeks.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other leaders urged calm in the face of worries that the shooting might incite rioting by Arab citizens of Israel. Israeli officials have been concerned about possible attacks on Arabs or Jewish leaders by ultra-nationalists.

"This was a reprehensible act by a bloodthirsty Jewish terrorist who sought to attack innocent Israeli citizens," Sharon said in a statement. "This terrorist event was a deliberate attempt to harm the fabric of relations among all Israeli citizens."

The soldier was identified as Eden Tsuberi, but Israeli television reports said he had enlisted in the military as Natan Zada.

He was described as an observant Jew who had been spending time in the West Bank settlement of Tapuah, which is known as a hotbed of hard-line religious and nationalist views, residents there said.

Acquaintances described him as newly devout and quiet. He found adherents of the banned ultra-nationalist Kach movement through the Internet, residents said.

An Israeli police spokesman, Chief Superintendent Avi Zelba, said authorities had not established a motive. "It's very hard to label things," Zelba said. "However, this is a very, very serious incident."

Some Israeli leaders, including Sharon, quickly condemned the shooting as an act of terrorism. Security around Sharon has been especially tight in recent months amid fears of pullout-related violence.

"Terrorism by civilians against civilians is the most dangerous thing affecting the future of the state of Israel and its stability as a democracy," Sharon said.

The shooting was condemned by Jewish and Arab groups across the world.

"This brutal attack on innocent civilians once again demonstrates that terrorism and extremism can rise out of any faith," said a statement by the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington.

American Jewish Committee executive director David A. Harris said, "Today's attack on innocent Arabs inside Israel appears to be a product of the incitement by a small minority opposed to the disengagement from Gaza. Their words and actions must be condemned in the harshest language."

The gunman opened fire as the bus traveled through Shfaram, a town of Arab Muslims, Christians and Druse near the port city of Haifa. Israeli news media reported that the shooting occurred after an argument broke out. The town's mayor, Ursan Yassin, told Israeli Channel 10 television that the shooter declared he wanted to kill Arabs.

"He got on the bus to shoot Arabs; that's what he told people. This is exactly what he said when he got on the bus," Yassin said.

Settler leaders opposed to Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza also condemned the shooting.

"We are all as shocked as everyone else at this madness perpetrated by a madman," said Benzi Lieberman, head of a settler group.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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