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Israel Kills 4; Palestinian Wounds 8

January 22, 2002

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JERUSALEM (AP) _ A Palestinian gunman opened fire on Israelis waiting at a bus stop in the heart of Jerusalem on Tuesday, wounding eight people, hours after Israeli commandos stormed an explosives lab and killed four Islamic militants in the West Bank. The violence provoked outrage and warnings of retaliation on both sides.

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

The Israelis said they launched Tuesday’s commando raid in the West Bank city of Nablus and other pre-emptive operations because Arafat repeatedly refused to act against militants. They also held 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 in the rain 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,″ 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 eight people were shot, including six who were seriously wounded, and more than 20 people were treated for shock, rescue officials said.

The gunman, Saeed Ramadan, was a member of the Al Aqsa Brigades, which is linked to 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.

Tuesday’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 people.

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

On Monday, Israeli troops took over the West Bank town of Tulkarem and arrested at least 11 militants. On Tuesday, 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.

``We don’t have any interest in toppling the Palestinian Authority,″ Ben-Eliezer said. ``We don’t have any interest in anything other than protecting the lives of Israeli citizens.″

In the Israeli raid in the West Bank town of Nablus early Tuesday, Israeli commandos entered a ground-floor apartment in a nine-story residential building where Hamas fugitives were hiding, Palestinian witnesses said.

As the soldiers entered the building, Palestinians set off a bomb and fired at the troops, said Israeli Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Eitan. Four soldiers were lightly wounded, he added.

However, the Palestinian intelligence chief in Nablus, Talak Dweikat, said it appeared the four were killed while sleeping.

Palestinian medics found three bodies lying on a floor covered with mattresses and the fourth in the shower, in a sitting position. The man in the shower was stripped to his underwear and the shower tiles were smeared with blood.

Soldiers found large amounts of explosives in the apartment, and nine suspects were arrested, the army said.

Shortly afterward, 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, tear gas and stun grenades.

Hamas has carried out scores of deadly attacks against Israelis, including suicide bombings. Last month, Hamas agreed to partially comply with Arafat’s truce call, and announced it was halting suicide bombings in Israel and stopping mortar fire.

However, in a leaflet released Tuesday in Gaza City, the group said that ``the series of massacres, including today’s in Nablus, opened the door to an all-out war against the Zionist army and the settlers, by all means and in all places.″

Palestinian officials identified the dead as members of the Hamas military wing, including the Nablus leader of the group, Yousef Soragji.

The army said all four had been released by the Palestinian Authority at the shortly after the Israeli-Palestinian fighting began 16 months ago, and had been involved in planning bombing attacks on Israelis.

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