Jordanian Kills Seven Israeli
JERUSALEM (Reuter) - A Jordanian soldier shot dead
seven Israeli girls Thursday, turning a school trip to a
border post called "The Island of Peace" into a tragedy that
rattled an already tense Middle East.
The attack south of the Sea of Galilee put pressure on the
United States to broker a swift end to the crisis in
Israeli-Arab relations over plans for Jewish settlement in
Arab East Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of
his inner security cabinet after the attack that he would press
ahead with the settlement next week, Israel Channel Two
And later, during his eulogy at the funeral for four of the
slain youngsters, Netanyahu reiterated his resolve.
"If anyone thinks the murder of little girls will bring this
people to its knees... or that we will relinquish our
birthright, holy land and eternal capital, he does not know
the strength that exists in each person standing here around
me today and in the entire nation," Netanyahu said.
At the United Nations headquarters in New York, the
General Assembly, by an overwhelming majority, called on
Israel to abandon its plans to build new housing.
The United States and Jordan portrayed the killing as an
isolated act of murder but Israelis and Palestinians linked it
to rising political tensions.
The soldier, an army driver, charged into a group of girls
aged 12 to 14, emptying the clip of his rifle, witnesses said.
Screaming children and their teachers ran into bushes for
cover. Doctors said the victims were shot from close range.
The armed guards that always accompany school groups in
Israel had left their weapons because the area is policed by
Jordanian soldiers overpowered the gunman who was
arrested. Colleagues identified him as Ahmed Moussa, 26,
from Adasiya, a town near the scene.
"All the girls screamed and cried and ran beneath bushes to
hide. Many girls were hurt and bloody. I was hit in the leg,"
said Hila Ivri, 14, at a hospital in northern Israel. Her sister
was shot in the stomach.
"I saw the gunmen. He held his gun. He was shooting, and
then he started shooting again...He was a bad guy with big
eyes," she said.
"I saw one girl who was hit in the shoulder. She rolled over
the bushes and then stopped breathing," said Ivri, one of
122 girls on an annual field trip from a religious school at
Bet Shemesh near Jerusalem.
In Washington, President Clinton called the shooting
"senseless" and appealed for calm in the region.
"There's no reason to believe this was politically
motivated," Clinton told reporters.
Several Israeli ministers, however, drew a parallel between
the recent war of words with Jordan and the violence.
"The violence of words to my regret can also lead to
physical violence," Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai
Palestinian minister Hanan Ashrawi blamed Israeli
settlement policy for creating "an atmosphere of hostility and
distrust which is conducive to violence."
King Hussein cut short a visit to Spain and put off a trip to
Washington to return home. He telephoned Netanyahu from
his plane to offer condolences, telling the Israeli leader he
hoped to visit the families of the victims.
"I conveyed an expression of my human feelings, my deep
sorrow and regret about what happened... Also I expressed
my hope if it were at all possible I would like to visit the
families of the bereaved," the king told reporters.
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who has spurned
Netanyahu's overtures for a week because of Jerusalem
settlement plans, also telephoned.
The soldier opened fire as the seventh and eighth graders
walked from three buses to look from an observation point
at Syria and the Golan Heights.
The girls were at a spot nicknamed "The Island of Peace," a
farm area where the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers meet. Israel
leases it from Jordan under their 1994 peace treaty.
Apart from infiltrations by Palestinian guerrillas, the heavily
guarded Israeli-Jordanian frontier has been largely quiet for
years. Israelis have been able to cross into Jordan since the
1994 treaty that gave Israel its warmest ties with any Arab
But relations with King Hussein have become icy since
Israel approved the East Jerusalem settlement at Har Homa
or Jabal Abu Ghaneim, which Palestinians say have plunged
the whole U.S.-sponsored regional peace drive into crisis.
The king wrote to Netanyahu Sunday accusing him of
pushing Arabs and Israelis toward "an abyss of bloodshed
"Who knows...how many of these gun-toting lunatics are
waiting for the green light in the form a remark in which
Israel is described the way it is being described today,"
Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said. Asked if he was
referring to the king's letter, Levy said no.
Another Israeli cabinet minister was more explicit.
"Perhaps the conclusion is that the king must hold his
tongue so that a soldier doesn't take his words to mean more
than he indended," Israel's Education Minister Zvulun
Hammer told army radio.
"Jordan has and must have a clear interest to prevent these
kinds of incidents," Cabinet Secretary Danny Neveh said
after the security cabinet session.
"We are at a very important diplomatic crossroads and the
Palestinian Authority, and foremost Yasser Arafat, have a
responsibility to act with restraint and restrain incitement and
violent," Naveh said as the first of the victims was buried.
Western officials said the shooting would temporarily take
the diplomatic heat off Netanyahu, who would be able to
point to Arab violence as the greatest threat to peacemaking.
But the shooting puts pressure on Washington to defuse the
crisis between Netanyahu and Arafat who has summoned
Western and Arab envoys to a meeting in Gaza Saturday.
Israel will not attend the meeting, which Arafat has billed as
an attempt to save the peace process. Arafat's aide Marwan
Kanafani said the PLO chairman was willing to meet
Netanyahu providing the meeting focused on the settlement
CAN THE STATE DEPARTMENT PROMOTE PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST WITH SYRIA?