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Palestinian kills 3 in Jerusalem attack

2/07/2008 - 20:39

By Jeffrey Heller and Avida Landau

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A Palestinian construction workerrampaged in a bulldozer along one of west Jerusalem's busieststreets on Wednesday, killing three Israelis as he crushed carsand overturned a bus before being shot dead.

There was no claim of responsibility from militant groupsand police said they were trying to establish if 30-year-oldHosam Dwayyat had acted alone. At his family home in the Arabeast of the city, there was no sign of the crowds and bannersthat normally accompany the funerals of Palestinian guerrillas.

A senior aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, VicePremier Haim Ramon, said the incident showed that somePalestinian areas like the one where Dwayyat lived should beseparated from Jerusalem.

Olmert has faced criticism in Israel for his willingness toconsider giving Palestinians some Arab-populated areas annexedby Israel as part of Jerusalem after it occupied the West Bankand East Jerusalem in 1967. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbaswants the capital of a Palestinian state to be in Jerusalem.

Neighbours and relatives, including an uncle, said Dwayyatwas divorced from a Jewish Israeli. Police said he had ahistory of drug offences but no known political affiliation.

Dwayyat drove the 20-tonne earthmoving vehicle for 500metres (yards) along Jaffa Road, rolling over cars, crushingsome occupants, and ramming into a crowded number 13 bus,flipping it on its side with his mechanical shovel.

Dramatic television footage showed the vehicle later at astandstill and a policeman in the cab, as rescue workers andpassersby surveyed the wreckage. However, the bulldozer startedmoving again and a struggle could be seen inside the cab.

A man in civilian clothes leapt aboard and fired a pistolinto the cab, followed by a helmeted policeman in body armourwho fired an automatic rifle. The officer later said he firedtwice at the wounded driver to ensure he was no further threat.

"The only way to stop him was with a bullet to the head,"witness Moshe Oren said afterwards. "We were relieved."

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the attack"was an act of senseless, murderous violence". An aide to Abbascalled it an attempt to wreck peace negotiations and urgedIsrael to show restraint in its response.

Abbas's opponents in Hamas and Islamic Jihad said theattack was a "natural" response by Palestinians to Israeliaggression but, nearly two weeks into a truce in the GazaStrip, neither Islamist group said it was responsible for theincident.

U.S. President George W. Bush called Olmert to offercondolences, Israeli spokesman Regev said.

Medical officials said more than 40 people were taken tohospital. Police at first identified the dead as two Israelimen and a woman, but then corrected this to one man and twowomen.

BLOODSHED

It was the first Arab attack in Jewish west Jerusalem sincea gunman killed eight students on March 6 at a rabbinicalseminary a short distance from Jaffa Road.

The scene in the aftermath of the incident was reminiscentof suicide bombings that destroyed buses on Jaffa Road during awave of attacks in 1996 and during the first years of aPalestinian uprising that began in 2000.

Since then, fatal attacks on Israelis have becomerelatively rare, despite frequent rocket and mortar fire fromGaza. Israeli forces have killed more than 360 Palestiniansthis year, mostly in Gaza. More than 100 of the Palestiniandead were civilians.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in Gaza his group didnot expect the attack to "influence the Gaza calm".

"There is a continued aggression against our people in theWest Bank and Jerusalem and so it is natural that our peoplethere will respond to such aggression," he said.

Hamas's allies, Islamic Jihad, said in a statement: "TheJerusalem Brigades bless the heroic operation in Jerusalem asthe natural reaction to the crimes of the occupation."

Unlike Palestinians in the blockaded Gaza Strip and in theoccupied West Bank, those living in occupied east Jerusalemhave free access to the Jewish west of the city and to Israel.

Arab and Jewish populations do not mix extensively, butthousands of Palestinians work on Israel's roads and buildingsites. The gunman who attacked the seminary in March was fromeast Jerusalem. That attack was claimed by Hamas officials.

At Gaza's border crossing with Egypt, Egyptian forces usedwater cannon and Hamas security forces had to restrain a crowdjostling for access during a brief opening of the Rafahcrossing point between the Palestinian enclave and its Arabneighbour.

Some Palestinians threw stones at Egyptian forces and alsocomplained of Hamas's failure to speed their passage to Egypt,the only access to the outside world for most Gazans, who areblocked from other land, sea and air routes by Israel.


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