New attack by construction worker hurts at least 24 in Israel

July 23, 2008|By New York Times News Service

JERUSALEM - A Palestinian driver of a large construction vehicle plowed into traffic on a busy Jerusalem street yesterday, hitting a bus, mangling cars and injuring at least 24 people before the driver was shot dead by an off-duty soldier and a border police officer.

The attack, the second in Jerusalem this month involving a construction vehicle, took place on King David Street near the Liberty Bell Park in Jerusalem's upscale hotel district, close to the King David Hotel. Local news media reports said Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for president, was due to stay at the hotel last night. Obama is on a weeklong tour as part of an American congressional delegation.

The hotel is where visiting dignitaries usually stay in Jerusalem, and where President Bush has stayed.

There were no fatalities besides the driver of the construction vehicle, the authorities said, although at least one person was badly injured. The police, who were treating it as a terrorist attack, said the driver, who was in his early 20s, came from the village of Umm Tuba, an Arab village within the southern limits of Jerusalem that has a strong Hamas presence.

He was stopped when the off-duty soldier shot into the vehicle. An acquaintance of the soldier's said in an interview that the soldier was a settler from the southern Hebron district of the West Bank. The driver of the construction vehicle was shot a second time by a border police officer who arrived at the scene shortly after, the police said, "to confirm his death."

On July 2, a Palestinian drove another construction vehicle on a deadly rampage in central Jerusalem, crushing several cars and ramming into buses and pedestrians before an off-duty soldier and a police officer clambered up to the cabin and fatally shot him. At least three people were killed in that attack, and more than 40 were wounded, Israeli officials said.

In a third attack in the city this year, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem opened fire at a prominent Jewish seminary in the heart of Jerusalem in March, killing eight students.

On the street minutes after yesterday's attack, which took place at about 2 p.m., one car was left crushed and another turned over. Many of those injured were still being led away from the scene by the emergency services, and the area had been closed off.

Yonatan Yagadovsky, director of the international department of the Magen David Adom rescue organization, said one person had lost a leg.

After the attack, witnesses said the construction vehicle, which they described as a large digger, was riddled with bullets, and the body of the driver was being removed from the cab.

Witnesses said the vehicle was driven from a construction site behind the YMCA building opposite the King David Hotel. When the vehicle emerged onto King David Street, it first hit a bus, the driver of which reacted quickly and drove off the road, according to Bentzi Gottesman, 24, who was working in a nearby gallery.

The construction vehicle then proceeded slowly along the main street, deliberately hitting cars along the way, Gottesman said. "I heard a big boom. I went out. I saw the tractor going into a bus. He hit the back part."

Another witness, Moshe Feiglin, said: "The first thing, he tried was to lower the shovel on a female pedestrian right near me. I jumped when there was a boom as the shovel hit the street. He missed by centimeters, thank God. In the first second I thought it was some kind of accident, confusion, but then he continued in a zigzag on King David Street, hitting cars, turning over cars."

Jerusalem police commander Aharon Franko told Israel radio the attack was over in seconds.

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