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Gunman's attack kills two Israelis

©Los Angeles Times
January 23, 2002

JERUSALEM -- Choosing the busiest time of day on this city's busiest commercial street, a Palestinian marched into downtown Jerusalem on Tuesday and raked pedestrians, shoppers and people waiting at bus stops with bursts of assault rifle fire until police shot him to death.

Two Israelis were fatally wounded in the attack and 14 other were injured. The shootings came hours after Israeli special forces killed four Islamic militants in the West Bank city of Nablus and the dead men's organization, Hamas, vowed "all-out war" on Israel.

A conflict that already has claimed more than 1,000 lives in nearly 16 months is escalating to one of its most dangerous periods yet. With mutual threats of harsh retaliation, each side accuses the other of pushing the cycle of violence and revenge to the brink.

In Nablus, Palestinian anger wasn't directed at Israel alone. After the four Hamas activists were killed, hundreds of sympathizers stormed the downtown Nablus prison and tried to scale the gates to demand the release of about two dozen Palestinians held there by the Palestinian Authority. At least one Hamas supporter was killed by Palestinian police gunfire.

In Jerusalem, rush hour was in full swing on bustling Jaffa Street when a Palestinian identified later as Saeed Ramadan walked up to a cellular telephone store and began shooting at people waiting for buses. He fired indiscriminately for up to 10 minutes before police chased, confronted and killed him.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militia affiliated with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed Ramadan as its own and said he acted to avenge the recent killing of one of the group's leaders.

Sgt. Hanan Ben Naim was credited with killing the 37-year-old Ramadan. He said he heard the shooting and ran to an alleyway off Jaffa Street where the gunman was trying to escape through a parking lot. At a distance of about 20 feet, the two men shot at each other until Ramadan fell dead, Ben Naim said. The officer, 26, said he was close enough to make eye contact with the attacker.

Each incident in this conflict has been answered by bloody payback, and more is expected. Now, however, there is a sense of dread among Israelis and Palestinians that the next phase of violence will be harsher than before.

An informal truce that Islamic militants were observing has been shelved, and Arafat is saying that he will no longer restrain his forces because Israel has continued its offensive against Palestinian positions. Since Israel killed one of their leaders last week, the Al Aqsa Brigade has increasingly shifted its attacks from the West Bank into Israel proper.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has made it clear he believes he has carte blanche to fight the Palestinians; in recent days, he has ordered the largest-ever incursions into Palestinian territory.

In their raid Tuesday into Nablus, Israeli special forces backed by tanks converged on a 26-unit apartment building about 3 a.m. and killed four members of Hamas whom Israel identified as bombmakers. The Israeli army said four soldiers were wounded in a gunbattle with the Hamas men, who the Israelis said started the exchange by hurling an explosive.

Palestinian officials dispute the Israeli account and say that at least some of the men were shot in their beds as they slept.

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