Thursday, August 4, 2005

TEL AVIV — An Israeli military deserter yesterday sprayed bullets at commuters on a bus in an Arab town in northern Israel, killing four and wounding about a dozen in the most brazen act of Jewish terrorism in more than 11 years.

The uniformed soldier, identified as Eden Natan-Zada, was killed by an angry crowd of pedestrians about 30 minutes after being overpowered and arrested.

The shooting, which took place at about 6 p.m. local time, appeared linked to Israel’s Aug. 15 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

Israeli authorities had feared that Jewish extremists would resort to terrorist attacks on Arabs to instigate a spurt of violence that could derail the evacuation of about 8,500 settlers.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon condemned the bus attack while expressing hope that community leaders would maintain calm.

“This was a reprehensible act by a bloodthirsty Jewish terrorist who sought to attack innocent Israeli citizens,” Mr. Sharon said.

“This terrorist event was a deliberate attempt to harm the fabric of relations among all Israeli citizens.”

Natan-Zada, 19, who reportedly went absent without leave from the army in recent weeks rather than participate in the withdrawal of Jews from Israeli-occupied territory, fired at the driver and the passengers at point-blank range as the bus entered the town of Shfaram.

Hundreds of local residents swarmed the vehicle, preventing police from evacuating the bodies of the victims for hours.

Israel’s Channel 1 reported that Natan-Zada had become involved with members of the outlawed Kach party who lived at a West Bank settler outpost.

Observers drew a parallel between yesterday’s attack and a February 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinian worshippers at Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs mosque.

The latter was carried out by Baruch Goldstein, a Brooklyn- born physician who was also a member of the Kach movement.

Also, about 25 Palestinians and two Israelis were killed in rioting that followed, nearly derailing the implementation of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord signed just months earlier.

“This is a terror attack for all intents and purposes. The writing was on the wall,” Mohammed Barakeh, an Israeli Arab parliamentarian, said yesterday. “He wasn’t alone.”

The attack escalated tensions in Israel just days after tens of thousands of police officers were called to southern Israel to stop opponents of the withdrawal from illegally marching into the Gaza settlements.

Israeli press outlets reported that security forces went on high alert in case of rioting during Friday services at the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem.

Israeli Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra blamed the shooting on anti-disengagement protesters who have advocated law-breaking and military insubordination.

Following the attack, angry residents of Shfaram reportedly threw rocks at the bus and called for revenge.

A security officer said he had handcuffed the attacker after he had emptied his gun clip, but within minutes, the crowd reached him to take revenge. Several policemen who arrived on the scene to restore order were also injured.

“It’s been a day of violence. We’ve lost four innocent residents of Shfaram,” said Shfaram Mayor Ersan Yassin. “It’s a criminal act.”

Israeli Arab leaders said the attack was the result of years of incitement against the county’s Arab minority by right-wing leaders.

Israeli Cabinet ministers called for an inquiry into why the soldier, who was known to the Shin Bet intelligence agency as an extremist, was allowed to hold on to his gun so long after going AWOL.

Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported that the attacker had left a note for his commanders after leaving the army base which said: “Just like I can’t desecrate the Sabbath, I can’t be part of an army which expels Jews.”

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