Gunmen kill four in Jewish settlement attack
JERUSALEM -- Palestinian gunmen burst into homes in a Jewish settlement and killed four people, including a 5-year-old girl, raising tension in the West Bank the day before the scheduled arrival of a U.N. fact-finding team to the area.
Seven people were wounded in the attack on Adora, near Hebron, the worst on a settlement since Israel began its military campaign to crush Palestinian militants. The three gunmen escaped, but Israeli military officials said one of them was shot dead in a neighboring Arab village in a sweep launched after the shooting.
Palestinians in nearby Hebron, one of the West Bank's largest cities, braced for Israeli reprisal, with police abandoning stations that in the past have been targets of retaliatory strikes. In Ramallah, meanwhile, about 50 young Palestinians throwing stones battled Israeli soldiers surrounding Yasser Arafat's besieged headquarters.
Soldiers peppered demonstrators with tear gas, advancing on foot toward the city center trying to push them back. Several Palestinians were hit by rubber bullets, said AP photographer Brennan Linsley, whose face was bruised by one.
At Adora, a hilltop settlement of 52 families set among Palestinian villages, the Israeli army said three attackers dressed in what appeared to be army uniforms cut through the settlement's defensive perimeter fence.
The gunmen moved from house to house, entering two of them and firing through windows of others, while many of the men were attending Sabbath prayers at the settlement's synagogue. Residents said the firing went on for about 45 minutes; the army said about 15 minutes.
One man shot Shiri Shefi, 29, and her three children in an upstairs bedroom, killing 5-year-old Danielle. Another attacker shot his way into a nearby home, killing Katya Greenberg, 45, in her bed and wounding her husband and 14-year-old son.
"Anyone capable of looking a 4-year-boy and a 5-year-girl in the face and then shooting them is not human," said the distraught father, Yaacov Shefi, whose 1-year-old son also was wounded.
Also killed were a male civilian and a member of the residents' security squad, according to the army. It did not identify them further and the Adora settlement office refused to comment.
Shefi, a policeman, said he raced home from the synagogue when he heard the shooting and saw two uniformed men. "I thought they were soldiers. I asked them, 'What's happening? Is everything all right?' They opened fire at me," he said later.
Army troops and helicopters mounted a massive manhunt for the gunmen, conducting a house-to-house search in the nearby village of Taffuh. The army said reserve soldiers spotted one of the three, fired on him and killed him.
The unidentified Palestinian was wearing an army shirt and pants, the military said. Israeli forces, it said, were searching for two other attackers.
Israel said it held Arafat's Palestinian Authority responsible. "The war against terror is not over," said Environment Minister Tsachi Hanegbi.
Palestinian Cabinet secretary Ahmed Abdel Rahman, however, blamed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's military campaign against Palestinians.
"All Palestinian people have been provoked everywhere in the Palestinian territories," Abdel Rahman said, urging an immediate Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. "This militant operation that happened today proved that the Israeli military solution is not useful and cannot prevent the Palestinian resistance."
Israeli TV played a video tape of Ghazi Jabali, the Gaza-based head of the Palestinian civil police, made before Saturday's attack that appears to approve of striking settlers and soldiers, but says other attacks merely erode American support.
"Why do I have to carry out an attack in a disco or a restaurant or in a school? I should carry out an attack against soldiers or a settlement," he says, adding that "I'm talking here as a regular Palestinian."
Israel TV said the tape was from a Palestinian TV interview with Jabali on Friday. Palestinian TV employees said they were unaware of the interview. The remarks, however, were relatively recent because Jabali speaks of the Israelis being able to use the March 27 Passover bombing in Netanya to win American support.
Jabali, asked by The Associated Press about the tape, referred to Arafat's recent statement condemning civilian deaths. "All of us are committed to this position, which is that we are against the killing of civilians from both sides," he said.
Even before the Adora attack, Israel's army vowed to enter Palestinian-controlled areas whenever necessary "to thwart terrorist activity." Afterward, Palestinian security officers in Hebron abandoned police stations and their headquarters, emptying the buildings in case of an Israeli incursion into the town. In the past, Palestinian security offices have been targets of Israeli retaliatory strikes.
The Adora attack was likely to only stiffen Israeli attitudes toward a U.N. team heading to the region to establish what happened in the Jenin refugee camp during the Israeli incursion. Palestinians claim a massacre occurred there, while Israel says it fought a battle against armed militias, with few civilian casualties.
Israel has expressed concern the team won't look at the reasons for its incursion _ deadly attacks on Israeli civilians.
The U.N. team's arrival was delayed by a day until Sunday. Sharon's Cabinet was to meet Sunday morning to decide on Israel's cooperation. After initially welcoming the committee last week, Israel raised objections over its composition and mandate.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met Saturday night with Israeli government legal and political advisers to discuss the U.N. team ahead of the Cabinet meeting.
Yoram Dori, spokesman for Peres, quoted the foreign minister as saying afterward that "an opportunity has been created for Israel to refute the blood libel against (Israeli) soldiers and commanders that a massacre was committed in Jenin."
In Jenin, Palestinians displaced from homes turned to piles of concrete said they held out few hopes the team would improve their plight.
"What can they do for us?" said Ahmed Zaki. A father of 11, Zaki's family have been sleeping at the local mosque. "Perhaps they'll give us tents to live in."
Meanwhile, efforts continued to end the 25-day standoff at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, where more than 200 Palestinians, including about 30 wanted militants, were surrounded by Israeli forces. The focus of negotiations centered on the fate of six men inside _ whether they will be escorted to the Gaza Strip, as the Palestinians propose, or be sent into exile, as Israel demands.
Palestinians inside the church said by telephone that an Israeli sniper shot one man walking in the church courtyard Saturday, wounding him in the abdomen. He was taken from the church on a stretcher. Mourners marched in the Bethlehem funeral of a Palestinian killed in earlier fighting with soldiers around the church compound.
A Palestinian negotiator, Salah Taameri, consulted with Arafat at his besieged headquarters, then returned to Bethlehem with the Palestinian leader's instructions to try to arrange a meeting with the Israelis.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops spotted someone moving toward Israeli territory early Saturday and shot him. A daylight search found he was armed with a knife and a copy of the Quran, the Islamic holy book.
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From the Times wire desk
From the AP