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Israeli Rocket Fire Claims Life of First Foreigner

Mideast: German native on his way to help Palestinian neighbors is killed as his own family sought shelter during attack on West Bank village.


BEIT JALA, West Bank — Harald Fischer planned to be gone only a few minutes to help his neighbors, leaving his frightened wife and children huddled on a cramped landing as Israeli fire rained down near their three-story home in this hillside village.

But the 68-year-old German native, who for two decades provided chiropractic care to hundreds of Palestinians here, never made it.

Late Wednesday night, he became the first foreigner slain by Israelis during the 7-week-old intifada, killed by what was believed to be a missile launched from the Jewish community of Gilo across the valley. The attack was in response to Palestinian gunmen here who had begun firing Wednesday afternoon at Gilo, just south of Jerusalem.

The rocket attack on Beit Jala, the most ferocious yet on the mixed Christian-Muslim village, came as Israel pledged to crack down more forcefully on those it holds responsible for the unabated violence.

Elsewhere Thursday, two Palestinians were killed, Islamic militants targeted an Israeli patrol near Lebanon, and U.S. peace negotiator Dennis B. Ross shuttled between Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in search of improbable common ground.

No one in Beit Jala, however, was in the mood to negotiate. Fischer's death only further enraged residents, who, like other Palestinians, see themselves as victims of a never-ending attack. They hope the fact that Fischer was German will fuel sympathy for their plight among Western nations, whom they accuse of supporting Israel's tough stance against Palestinian protesters.

Germany did respond Thursday. Its representative to the Palestinian Authority attended Fischer's funeral, and the nation's foreign minister sought an explanation for the killing. Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami assured his German counterpart--both of them were attending an unrelated meeting in France--that Israel will investigate. The German military attache in Israel will be allowed to take part in the inquiry, Ben-Ami added.

Bereaved family members said they hope for a more lasting tribute to Fischer--an end to the Israeli-Palestinian violence that has claimed the lives of more than 220 people, the great majority of them Arab.

"We can no longer live in fear and danger," said Norma Fischer, his wife of 19 years. Tears streamed down her cheeks as relatives and friends visiting her home sought to comfort her Thursday.

"I hope the world would wake up and see what's really here," added the Fischers' 15-year-old daughter, Rafaela.

Thousands of residents followed a funeral procession from the Fischer home Thursday afternoon. Church bells tolled and local Boy Scouts and Girl Guides drummed a mournful tune as the crowd surged through Beit Jala's narrow and winding streets. Children struggling to hold up large German flags lined the courtyard in front of the Lutheran church where the service took place.

At the funeral, hundreds of subdued Palestinians jostled for a spot next to Fischer's open coffin, where his body lay wrapped in Palestinian and German flags.

"The Palestinian Medical Organization mourns Dr. Harry Fischer who in exercising his medical duties . . . was murdered by Israeli rockets," read a sign in German that two Palestinian physicians held up outside the church.

Fischer, who met his Palestinian wife through a German charity for disabled Palestinians that he worked for, wasn't licensed as a doctor, friends and relatives said. But "for free, he worked as an orthopedist," Dr. Majid Nassar said.

His pastor said that during the last Palestinian uprising, which ended in 1993, Fischer helped many injured Palestinians with their rehabilitation.

In recent weeks, "we had told him to leave, to take his family to Germany, but he wouldn't go," said Diana Mubarak, who works with Fischer's wife, a social worker. "He said, 'You know I'm not a coward--I have to help people.' "

Hours after the funeral, violence erupted in Jerusalem when unknown gunmen fired shots at an Israeli police station in the largely Arab section of the city, which Palestinians claim as their capital. Four Israeli border policemen returned fire, sending passersby fleeing.

Also Thursday, two Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers in violence near Hebron, witnesses and hospital officials said.

In Tel Aviv, police successfully detonated a pipe bomb found near a bus station entrance, the Jerusalem Post reported.

In the north, Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas attacked an Israeli military patrol with roadside bombs in the disputed Shaba Farms border region.

Barak, meanwhile, announced on Israel Radio that he had stopped transfer payments of millions of dollars in tax revenues that Israel collects monthly for the Palestinians--in a bid to pressure them into honoring earlier truce agreements. The action will further cripple the Palestinian economy, which has faced devastating unemployment since Israel sealed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The prime minister also defended his military policies and told Israelis that there is no quick military fix.

"If we thought that instead of 200 dead there, that 2,000 dead would end this whole issue, and that at once, everything would end, then we would use much more force," he told the station. "But in our opinion, the situation is the opposite.

"We are waiting for a long battle that will really decide our future in this country."

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