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Mideast Mantra: 'They Kill You, You Kill Them'

Conflict: After slayings blamed on Jewish settlers, both sides brace for more violence.

July 21, 2001|TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IDNA, West Bank — The Tmaizeh cousins, wives and children were driving home from a wedding when a white car suddenly intercepted them. One, maybe two gunmen sprayed the Palestinian family with bursts of automatic weapon fire and then fled toward Israel.

In barely a minute, 3-month-old Diyaa and two of his adult relatives lay dead, killed by suspected Jewish extremists in the latest grim twist to the relentless bloodshed convulsing the Middle East.

On Friday, enraged Palestinians calling for revenge buried the three Tmaizehs, each body wrapped in a Palestinian flag as it was carried to the Omari Mosque in this West Bank village. The baby's head stuck out from his death shroud.

Israeli authorities said the Thursday night shootings appear to have been the work of a shadowy group of radical Israelis exacting revenge. It was the fourth shooting by Jewish vigilantes in the last couple of months but by far the most deadly, and it gave life to warnings that Jewish terrorism will spread in response to nearly 10 months of Israeli-Palestinian warfare.

As Israelis and Palestinians braced for the next round of killings and retaliation, a huge explosion late Friday tore apart the Hebron headquarters of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. At least one person was killed and scores more were being pulled from the rubble. Also late Friday, tank fire echoed on the southern skirts of Jerusalem in fierce exchanges between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank village of Beit Jala.

Responsibility for the Idna shooting was claimed in the name of a group known as the Committee for Security on the Roads, which has acted sporadically for years. The group is believed to be an offshoot of the outlawed Kach, a virulent organization that advocates ridding the Holy Land of all Arabs. Kach founder Rabbi Meir Kahane was assassinated in New York in 1990; his son and daughter-in-law were shot to death by Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank last December.

Idna lies about six miles west of the powder-keg West Bank city of Hebron, where armed Jewish settlers, the army and Palestinian gunmen clash on a near-daily basis. Settler leaders have been demanding that the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon destroy Palestinian forces to stop drive-by shootings and ambushes that have killed several dozen settlers since late September.

In Idna, hundreds of mourners followed the funeral cortege through steep, winding streets from the Tmaizeh home to the mosque, many chanting "Death to settlers! Death to Israel!"

Mohammed Tmaizeh, a cousin who watched the shooting from his balcony Thursday night, said that after the attackers sped away, he and other relatives rushed to their family. The baby, Diyaa, and the two adults, Mohammed Hilmy Tmaizeh, 20, and Mohammed Salameh Tmaizeh, 23, were dead, and four other relatives in the car--including a 3-year-old girl--were wounded.

"It is obvious the settlers were just waiting for them," said Tmaizeh, a 28-year-old student. "They [Israeli authorities] won't catch them--they won't do anything."

An uncle, Hagil Tmaizeh, vowed revenge. "They kill you, you kill them," said the 64-year-old. "It is the normal thing."

Before the funeral, the baby's mother, Rima, was inconsolable as she received mourners at her home. She told visitors that her baby was the product of more than a decade of fertility treatments and other attempts to get pregnant.

Pictures of Diyaa, still covered in blood and wearing diapers decorated with little colorful animal figures, were plastered on the front pages of Palestinian newspapers and on posters in numerous West Bank towns. He was the youngest victim yet in a hate-filled conflict that has claimed the lives of children and babies on both sides.

One survivor, 19-year-old Hilmi Tmaizeh, said the shooters wore kippot, or Jewish skullcaps. From her hospital bed in Hebron, another wounded survivor, Mai Tmaizeh, described the way the gunmen's car cut them off when they were crossing a bypass road to their home. "They just started shooting," she said. Tmaizeh, with shrapnel wounds the length of her body and stitches in her bruised face, had been married for just a week to Mohammed Salameh Tmaizeh. The family had not yet told her that he had died.

The shooting was widely condemned by Israeli officials, who vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice, and by American Jewish groups. The State Department branded it a "barbaric" attack "of unconscionable vigilantism."

But on the ground, neither Jews nor Arabs were surprised.

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