Last Updated Thu, 04 Aug 2005 22:39:37 EDT
A man wearing an Israeli army uniform opened fire inside a bus in an Israeli Arab town and killed four people, in an attack being linked to the country's planned withdrawal from Gaza.
19-year-old Israeli gunman who opened fire killing passengers on a bus in the Israeli town of Shfaram. (AP photo)
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At least 22 people, most them Arabs, were injured in the shooting and its aftermath on Thursday in the northern town of Shfaram.
An angry crowd killed the gunman, who was identified in media reports as Eden Tsuberi, a 19-year-old army deserter from an extremist Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called the assault "a sinful act by a bloodthirsty terrorist."
"This terror incident is a deliberate attempt to harm the relations between the citizens of Israel," Sharon's office said in a statement.
"Terror between civilians is the most dangerous thing for the future of Israel and its democratic stability."
Much of the attention in the lead-up to the Israeli withdrawal of as many as 9,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza and four small West Bank settlements has focused on fears that Palestinian militant groups would break a shaky truce.
But Israel's security forces had also long feared attacks by right-wing Jewish extremists intent on sabotaging the withdrawal from Gaza, scheduled to start in mid-August.
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"This cannot be disconnected from the pullout," retired army Gen. Yom-Tov Samia told Israel TV after Thursday's attack.
The bearded gunman was wearing an Israeli army uniform and a skullcap identifying him as an Orthodox Jew, witnesses told reporters.
Israel TV reported that Tsuberi deserted the army a month earlier because he disagreed with the withdrawal plans.
The network said he had recently moved to the West Bank settlement of Tapuah, which is dominated by ultranationalists who have actively opposed the pullout.
A crowd surrounds a bus where a Jewish settler opened fire killing at least 4 people. (AP photo)
However, a statement from the settlers' council said the gunman hadn't lived in Tapuah.
The attack was condemned by the heads of mainstream settler groups, as they led thousands of settlers and their supporters at an anti-pullout demonstration near the Gaza Strip.
"Such incidents cannot be part of the democratic struggle in Israel," said Benzi Lieberman, of the Yesha settler council.
Hours after the shooting, thousands of angry people from Shfaram were still at the site and there were widespread fears of rioting in Israel's northern Arab towns.
Israeli police sent reinforcements to the north and both Israeli and Palestinian officials called for calm in an already charged environment.
Meanwhile, about 10,000 Palestinians held a demonstration in Gaza City on Thursday, celebrating the planned withdrawal.
About one-fifth of Israel's population is Arab and they have periodically faced attacks by Jewish extremists.
In the worst attack by a Jewish settler on Arabs, Baruch Goldstein gunned down 29 Muslim worshippers in the burial place of the biblical Abraham, the traditional forefather of Jews and Muslims, in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1994.
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