JERUSALEM: A 19-year-old Israeli soldier opened fire inside a bus yesterday, killing four Israeli Arabs before being killed by an angry mob - the deadliest attack on Arabs in Israel by a Jewish extremist since 1990.
Thirteen people, including bus passengers and two policemen, were wounded in the shooting, which appeared to be tied to tensions over this month's Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. The military tentatively identified the gunman as Pvt
Edan Natan-zada, a resident of the extremist Jewish settlement of Tapuah in the West Bank. Natan-zada's father, Yitzhak, said that his son ran away from his army unit several weeks ago, after he was told he would have to participate in the Gaza pullout.
Israel Radio said the gunman was bludgeoned to death by an angry crowd. After the attack, the gunman's body was seen on the floor of the bus. Police had covered his head with a black plastic bag. His shirtless upper torso was heavily bruised and bloodied.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon denounced the shooting as "a despicable act by a bloodthirsty terrorist" and ordered police to give top priority to the investigation. Settler leaders also condemned the attack.
In southern Israel, meanwhile, opponents of the pullout ended their second mass protest yesterday, after police blocked their plan to march to Gaza to reinforce the doomed settlements. Also, around 450 right-wing opponents of the pullout have been caught inside or trying to infiltrate the doomed settlements, police said yesterday.
Israel announced plans yesterday to expand a settlement near Jerusalem, its latest effort to consolidate Israeli control over parts of the West Bank.
The plans to build 72 housing units in the Beitar Illit settlement are liable to put Israel on a collision course with the US government, which opposes settlement expansion, and immediately raised the ire of Palestinians, who claim the West Bank as part of a future state.
Israel also expects at least 180,000 of the current 240,000 settlers in the occupied West Bank will be able to stay in their homes with approval from the US.
However, Jordan's King Abdullah told Israel yesterday that its planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip must be followed by a pullout from the West Bank.
Officials said the king also told visiting Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz that the withdrawal should open the door to restart negotiations on a US- backed "road map" peace plan.
Israeli troops detained Khader Adnan, West Bank spokesman of the militant Islamic Jihad group yesterday, Palestinian security sources said.
He was taken into custody during a raid in Ramallah. l Palestinians gathered at the graveside of Yasser Arafat yesterday to mark what would have been the 76th birthday of their late patriarch, mourning his absence on the eve of Israel's pullout from Gaza.