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THE WORLD

4 Jewish Settlers Killed in Attack

Mideast: Palestinian gunmen disguised as Israeli soldiers lead a bloody morning assault on an isolated West Bank community.

April 28, 2002|REBECCA TROUNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ADORA, West Bank — Palestinian gunmen disguised as Israeli soldiers cut through a fence surrounding this isolated Jewish settlement Saturday and raced from house to house, shooting residents at breakfast, on the street and in their beds, the Israeli army said.

Four people, including a 5-year-old girl, were killed, and seven others wounded in the brazen daylight rampage, the deadliest such attack since Israel launched a sweeping offensive against Palestinian militants in the West Bank a month ago.

The assailants, two or possibly three men, managed to escape into the surrounding hills after the attack, but an army spokeswoman said one was killed later Saturday in a firefight with Israeli soldiers in a nearby village.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, claimed responsibility for the attack. Israel earlier said it blamed the Palestinian Authority of Yasser Arafat, who has been trapped by Israeli tanks and troops in his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah for nearly a month. Israel has insisted that Arafat do more to rein in the militants who have targeted Israeli civilians in a devastating wave of suicide bombings and other attacks.

Israeli retaliation for Saturday's killings appeared all but certain, although it was unclear how quickly it might come. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whose army chief of staff visited the bloodied scenes of the shootings here Saturday, summoned his security Cabinet to an urgent meeting today.

"Arafat is the leader of the Palestinian Authority, and he and his leadership have not changed their strategy of terror," Sharon advisor Danny Ayalon said late Saturday. "They are responsible."

Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian Cabinet official, instead blamed the violence on Israel's long-standing occupation of the West Bank and its recent reentry into key Palestinian cities.

"Sharon should look in the mirror to see who's responsible for these things," Erekat said. "We don't condone violence on either side, but hate breeds hate. There will never be a military solution here."

At the security Cabinet meeting, the government is also expected to decide whether to cooperate with a United Nations fact-finding commission that plans to arrive here today to investigate Israel's recent three-week occupation of the Jenin refugee camp. The team's arrival was delayed last week after Israel voiced objections to its mission.

In Adora, a hilltop settlement of about 300 people about five miles west of the Palestinian city of Hebron, tearful, shaken residents embraced one another after Saturday's attack and called on the government to retaliate swiftly against the killers and those who sent them.

"After what they did to women, to children, we know we have business with these animals," said Gil Soffer, 42, an accounting firm employee who saw his neighbor, Yaakov Katz, shot to death Saturday. "We cannot talk to them."

Residents and army officials said it was just before 9 a.m. when the gunmen entered the settlement. Many of Adora's male residents were attending Sabbath prayers in the community's synagogue, residents said; their weapons, a constant feature of life for many West Bank settlers, had been left at home. And the four soldiers assigned to guard the settlement were at Adora's opposite side, Soffer said.

The assailants cut through the settlement's wire perimeter fence near several homes under construction, according to an army spokesman. Wearing what witnesses said appeared to be Israeli army uniforms and carrying M-16 and Kalashnikov assault rifles, the men separated inside the settlement and targeted different houses, entering several and raking others from outside with gunfire.

Residents said the men operated in the settlement for at least half an hour. The army estimates that it was about 15 minutes.

One man entered the home of Shiri Shefi, who was sitting upstairs with her three children--5-year-old Danielle and two sons, ages 4 and 1--residents said. The man sprayed the family with gunfire, wounding all four and killing Danielle, who was shot in the head at point-blank range, an army spokesman said.

In the synagogue a few hundred yards away, Soffer, Katz and other men heard shots and came rushing up the hill to confront the gunmen. Soffer stopped at home to grab his M-16. Then he and Katz, who was unarmed, saw one of the men near Shefi's home. The man turned and fired, killing Katz, who worked as a computer engineer, Soffer said.

Anat Harari, 41, heard shooting and saw a young man in an army uniform standing outside her kitchen window. She called her mother, Gila, another resident of the settlement, to ask her if the army was conducting a drill. But the man suddenly raised his gun and shot her in the shoulder, Harari said later. She fled to a bathroom but stayed on the phone as the man shot at other windows and tried repeatedly to enter her locked house.

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