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Jerusalem Gunmen Kill 2, Wound 14

October 10, 1994|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — A pair of gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons on a crowded downtown Jerusalem street, reportedly killing two people and wounding 14 Sunday night, Israeli army radio said.

Among the wounded was an unidentified U.S. diplomat, wire services reported. U.S. consular officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Two border police officers who happened to be in the area shot the gunmen to death minutes after the pair, who were believed to be Palestinians, opened fire.

The attackers, described by reporters on the scene as teen-agers, were armed with Kalashnikov automatic assault rifles and grenades.

Mobs quickly gathered downtown, shouting "Death to the terrorists" and "Rabin is a traitor," referring to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, as security forces combed the area for more gunmen. Police arrested several Palestinians and hustled them away from the angry crowds.

The bloody attack was the first in Jerusalem since Israel handed over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho to Palestinian control in May.

It occurred just blocks away from where U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher was staying at the King David Hotel. Christopher arrived Sunday morning at the start of a weeklong negotiating mission between Israel and Syria.

Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization are scheduled to open a second round of talks today in Cairo on holding Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza.

Officials could not say Sunday night whether the attack would delay those talks.

The gunmen arrived in the Nahalat Shiva neighborhood of downtown Jerusalem shortly before midnight. They apparently parked a car near Independence Park and started walking toward Solomon Street, a historic pedestrian mall of stone buildings that house restaurants, pubs and boutiques.

Witnesses said the men started shooting indiscriminately at diners eating outside. Pandemonium erupted as people on the street returned fire.

"I was sitting here in a restaurant and I heard shooting," said one unidentified witness, speaking to Israeli army radio minutes after the attack. "I pulled out my gun and went toward the shots. I saw a terrorist. He shot at me, then a border policeman shot him."

Many Israelis have permits to carry guns, and it is common in Jerusalem to see people wearing handguns tucked into their belts.

The wounded were taken to several Jerusalem hospitals. At least five were described as in serious condition.

Security forces--already beefed up for the Christopher visit--poured into downtown, both to search for more gunmen and to control the crowds.

On the scene moments after the attack, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, joined by Israeli President Ezer Weizman, issued a plea on Israeli army radio for citizens to stay away from downtown.

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