- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2005

GUSH ETZION, West Bank — Palestinian militants fired on a crowded bus stop from a speeding car yesterday, killing three persons and wounding four in the deadliest attack on Israelis in more than three months, officials said.

Minutes later, militants carried out another drive-by shooting elsewhere in the West Bank, seriously wounding one Israeli.

Also yesterday, Israeli troops fatally shot an Islamic militant and seriously wounded a bystander in the West Bank, Palestinian and Israeli officials said.

The violence was the worst since a July 12 suicide bombing in the northern Israeli town of Netanya killed five persons. Israeli security officials had warned that after the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Palestinian militants would shift their focus to the West Bank.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militant group loosely affiliated with the ruling Fatah party, took responsibility for the shootings.

Israel responded with tough new measures limiting movement in the West Bank, security officials said. Exits from Bethlehem and Hebron will be blocked, Palestinian cars will be banned from the area and arrest raids will be increased, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The decisions were made at high-level consultations led by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II promised Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas yesterday that he will continue to rally international support for Middle East peacemaking and offered help to take control of Palestinian lands relinquished by Israel.

The king, who met Mr. Abbas at a hilltop palace in the capital Amman, said Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip last month “must be followed by other withdrawals from the West Bank as stipulated in the road map” — the U.S.-backed peace plan that envisions Palestinian statehood.

Mr. Abbas arrived in Jordan on Friday at the start of a tour that also takes him to Egypt, France, Spain and Washington, where he is scheduled to meet with President Bush on Thursday.

The first attack yesterday occurred at a main intersection in a block of settlements south of Jerusalem. Militants racing by in a car opened fire at people waiting at a bus stop and at others in nearby cars.

Israeli rescue services said one Israeli died at the scene and two died in the hospital. Two were young women, cousins ages 23 and 21, from a nearby settlement. The other was a 15-year-old boy, Israeli press reported.

The second attack occurred near the settlement of Eli in the northern West Bank, relatively far from the site of the first shooting. Israeli officials condemned the attacks.

“Israel removed roadblocks and made a number of humanitarian gestures to ease up on the Palestinians,” said David Baker, an official in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office. “It’s unfortunate that the Palestinians have exploited these measures to carry out these murderous attacks.”

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