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Gunman From Egypt Kills 4 in Southern Israel

November 26, 1990|DANIEL WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — A uniformed gunman from Egypt shot and killed three Israeli soldiers and a bus driver in far southern Israel on Sunday, the bloodiest incident during a weekend of raids on the country's troops and frontiers.

The soldiers were hit while riding in jeeps, and 23 civilian defense workers were wounded on the bus whose driver was slain. Eighteen of the wounded were released from hospitals shortly after the incident. The attack took place at dawn near Eilat, an Israeli resort on the Gulf of Aqaba.

Defense Minister Moshe Arens indirectly blamed Egypt for lax control of the frontier. "Israel expects that Egypt will take all the necessary steps to retain the peace along its border with Israel and to prevent murderers coming from its territory," he said.

Islamic Jihad, a Muslim extremist group, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement issued in Jordan. In February, the same group, an affiliate of the Palestine Liberation Organization, claimed responsibility for killing nine Israeli tourists in a machine-gun and grenade attack on a tourist bus inside Egypt.

"This morning, one of our units operating in Egypt dealt a blow to a Zionist bus at the crossing point between Palestine and Egypt," Sunday's Islamic Jihad statement said.

Egyptian reports said the gunman was arrested and that Egypt will investigate.

In Lebanon later in the day, a teen-age girl carrying a bag of explosives blew herself up when she tried to attack a group of Israeli soldiers inside the Israeli-controlled buffer zone that hugs Israel's northern frontier. The blast killed the girl and inflicted slight injuries on two Israeli soldiers and a Lebanese bystander, authorities said.

Sunday's attacks came on the heels of an attempted beach landing in Israel by guerrillas from Lebanon. Four guerrillas died Saturday and a fifth swam to shore near Sidon in Lebanon after their boat was shot out of the water by an Israeli naval patrol.

Israeli military officials were reluctant to link the raids. "There is no evidence of coordination at this point," army spokesman Moshe Fogel said.

As is customary after cross-border incidents, the army chief of staff, Gen. Dan Shomron, visited the Eilat site after the shooting. His visit took place just a few hours before the government announced that he would be replaced in April by his deputy, Ehud Barak. Shomron will be completing his fourth year in the top army post, a normal term of duty.

For the past several weeks, it had been Israel's frontier with Jordan that had produced bloodshed. Several attempts at infiltration were thwarted by Israeli troops, the most recent on Nov. 8, when a group of Jordanian militiamen were intercepted by Israeli soldiers. One Israeli and one Jordanian were killed during the shoot-out.

Israeli officials attributed the increase in attacks from Jordan to rising Islamic fervor and an impassioned response to the October police killings of Palestinians at Jerusalem's Temple Mount.

In Lebanon, meanwhile, Syria's assertion of control over Beirut and the expulsion of Lebanese militias from the capital toward the south have raised concern that attacks against Israel from the north will increase. A Lebanese-based group called the Syrian National Social Party took responsibility for Sunday's suicide attack by the teen-ager. The attempted bombing was meant to commemorate the 58th anniversary of the pro-Damascus group's founding, according to reports from Lebanon.

Saturday's attempted sea attack was also made in commemoration of an anniversary--the third year after a hang-glider attack from Lebanon into Israel in which a Palestinian guerrilla killed six Israeli soldiers. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, headed by the Syrian-backed terrorist Ahmed Jibril, claimed responsibility for the aborted sea raid.

The killings near Eilat highlighted the relatively relaxed vigilance along the border with Egypt, the only Arab country to have signed a peace treaty with Israel.

Along parts of the border, the countries are separated only by easily traversed wire fence, in contrast to the heavily patrolled and mined border with Jordan and the closely watched frontier with Lebanon. The Lebanon border is protected by a militarized buffer zone up to 10 miles wide that is patrolled by the Israeli-backed, Christian-led South Lebanon Army.

"The Egyptian border is at peace, and we act differently there than we do along our other borders," Israeli spokesman Fogel said.

According to reports from Egypt, the gunman lay down in a ditch beside a road six miles northwest of Eilat. When the jeeps and bus, which were heading to a military base, passed at different intervals, he rose and fired a Soviet-made AK-47 rifle. An alerted Israeli army patrol appeared and began shooting as did a passenger from the bus. The gunman fled on foot toward Egypt, 300 yards away. He was wounded but escaped, reports said.

Israel Radio said the gunman was a border guard. Cairo's Middle East News Agency reported that an army conscript was arrested in Egypt on suspicion of "opening fire on a number of Israeli vehicles carrying Israeli soldiers and workers."

"It is a very regrettable incident, and we are certainly against such kinds of acts, and we shall investigate this affair in detail," said Egypt's foreign minister, Esmat Abdel Meguid.

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