- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

JERUSALEM A Palestinian gunman opened fire on Israelis waiting at a bus stop in the heart of Jerusalem yesterday, wounding 16 persons hours after Israeli commandos stormed an explosives lab and killed four Islamic militants in the West Bank.

Middle East tensions are rising again after several weeks of relative calm, with Israel effectively keeping Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat under house arrest at his West Bank government compound and militant Palestinians abandoning an informal truce.

Also yesterday, more than 2,000 Hamas supporters rioted outside Palestinian police headquarters in Nablus, demanding freedom for Hamas detainees. Protesters burned three police cars, overturned a fourth and threw stones at officers who responded with live fire.

The Israelis said they launched yesterday's commando raid in the West Bank city of Nablus and other pre-emptive operations because Mr. Arafat repeatedly refused to act against militants. They also held Mr. Arafat responsible for the shooting attack on one of west Jerusalem's busiest streets.

"You can certainly expect an Israeli reaction," said Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner. "Israel has done very little until now. Apparently this was not strong enough medicine, and maybe a strong reaction is needed."

But Ahmed Abdel Rahman, the Palestinian Cabinet secretary, said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "has to blame himself for pushing the Palestinians to react against this continuous aggression."

In the Jerusalem shooting, a Palestinian gunman opened fire with an assault rifle on Israelis waiting for a bus and walking along one of the city's main arteries, Jaffa Street.

Witness Akiva Harari, 21, said the attacker, wearing a heavy coat, emerged from a parking lot. "I saw him shoot two women and they fell," he said. Police then chased the gunman back into the parking lot, followed by several minutes of sporadic gunfire," Mr. Harari said.

"The terrorist tried to run away, but after a short chase, police succeeded in hitting him and killed him," said Jerusalem Police Chief Mickey Levy.

At least 16 people were shot, including six who were seriously wounded, and more than 20 people were treated for shock, officials said.

The gunman, Saeed Ramadan, was a member of the al Aqsa Brigades, which is linked to Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement, said the man's uncle, Adnan Ramadan. The shooting was retaliation for last week's killing of an al Aqsa Brigades leader, sources in the group said.

Yesterday's shooting took place near the corner of Jaffa and King George streets, only a few yards from where a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up at a pizzeria in August, killing 15 persons.

Meanwhile, the recent series of pre-emptive Israeli military strikes has raised speculation that Israel is trying to bring down Mr. Arafat, who has been confined to the West Bank city of Ramallah since early December. Israeli tanks have surrounded Mr. Arafat's government compound since last Friday.

On Monday, Israeli troops took over the West Bank town of Tulkarm and arrested at least 11 militants. Yesterday, the Israelis pulled out of the town after the 30-hour operation, which left one Palestinian dead in a gunbattle.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Israeli incursions into Palestinian territory were meant to halt attacks on Israeli civilians and that Israel had no plans to reoccupy Palestinian-controlled areas.

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