JERUSALEM, Aug 17: A Jewish settler killed four Palestinians in a West Bank shooting on Wednesday, drawing a threat of retaliation from Palestinian militants which could complicate Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Gaza Strip.
Israeli police said the assailant was a driver who had taken Palestinian workers to jobs in Shiloh, a Jewish West Bank settlement. Once there, he snatched a security guard’s gun and turned it on his passengers.
“He fired at the Palestinian workers,” police spokesman Shlomo Saguy said. “The shooter has now been captured.”
Medical officials said that after shooting dead two Palestinians in his car, the settler fired at others in the industrial zone. Another two Palestinians died later.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which came just hours after Israeli troops began removing settlers and their supporters from several Gaza settlements as part of a pullout which Israeli opponents see as capitulation to a Palestinian uprising that began in 2000.
Palestinian militants threatened to renew attacks that they have scaled back in recent months at the behest of President Mahmoud Abbas, who seeks a smooth handover of Gaza.
SECOND SUCH ATTACK: “By freeing the hand of settlers to shed Palestinian blood, the enemy is opening the door for resistance factions to respond to these Zionist crimes which take place during the calm,” a spokesman for the Hamas said.
There was a similar statement from kindred group Islamic Jihad, although it said any retaliatory attacks would take place in the West Bank or Israel, but not in Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who casts the pullout from Gaza and a corner of the West Bank as ‘disengagement’ from five years of fighting with the Palestinians, has said there will be no withdrawal under militant fire.
The West Bank attack came almost two weeks after an ultranationalist Jew opposed to the withdrawal shot dead four Israeli Arabs aboard a bus in northern Israel. The gunman, who was beaten to death by an angry mob, had deserted from the Israeli army and taken up residence in a West Bank settlement.
The Palestinian Authority demanded Israel disarm settlers.
“We condemn the terrorist settler attack in the West Bank and we demand that Israel disarm the settlers and bring those who carried out the attack to justice,” senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
Some 230,000 Jews live in settlements scattered among the 2.4 million Palestinians of the West Bank.
US concern: The United States voiced concern on Wednesday over the killing of Palestinians and urged restraint on both sides during the Israeli withdrawal.
“We are deeply concerned by reports of settler violence toward Palestinians that has left several dead and wounded. We condemn this attack, condemn attacks of violence committed as part of this withdrawal process. And our condolences go out to the victims of the families,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
He said the US has been in touch with both the Palestinians and the Israelis and urged ‘calm and respect’ for the rule of law on all sides.—Agencies