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|Killers make funeral of wedding|
|07/21/01 at 18:47:22|
|Killers make funeral of wedding |
Settler cell suspected of ambushing Palestinians
Special report: Israel and the Middle East
Suzanne Goldenberg in Idna village, West Bank
Saturday July 21, 2001
The idling car with the yellow Israeli plates flashed its high beams, willing the Palestinian wedding party in the battered old Peugeot through the junction. "As soon as we crossed the road, they opened fire," said Hilmi Tmeizi.
The first shots hit the Palestinian driver in the forehead, and the car plunged into the raised bank of the road.
As Hilmi, 17, cowered in the front seat beside the slain driver, two men got out of the white Mitsubishi with automatic weapons, and killed the man on the other side of the Palestinian youth.
Less than two minutes later, the gunmen were back in their car, crashing through an Israeli army barricade on a road leading west towards Israel. In the Peugeot, they left behind the two dead men on either side of Hilmi, and in a back seat slick with blood, a baby boy three and a half months old, two severely injured women, and a wounded girl, aged three years. Hilmi was hit in the shoulder.
Thursday night's gangland-style execution of the wedding party was claimed by a group linked to the outlawed Jewish extremist movement Kach and calling itself the Committee for Road Safety. A manhunt was underway yesterday for the killers - reported to be four Jewish men wearing skullcaps.
It was the deadliest attack by Israeli extremists since 1994, when a militant settler, Baruch Goldstein, shot dead 29 Palestinians as they knelt in prayer in the nearby town of Hebron.
The attack was a copy of the drive-by shootings and ambushes that have killed nearly 30 Jewish settlers since the latest phase of the Palestinian uprising began almost 10 months ago.
Frustrated by these shootings and infuriated at the refusal of the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to reoccupy Palestinian-run towns, Jewish vigilantes are starting to take the law into their own hands.
Earlier this week, the chief of Israel's Shin Bet intelligence agency warned that settler rage was being channelled into a cell of armed extremists.
Avi Dichter said the group had carried out three shooting attacks, including one last month that killed a Palestinian lorry driver. No one has been arrested for those attacks.
And so violence breeds violence: at the burial of the wedding group yesterday, Palestinians demanded vengeance or threatened to turn themselves into human bombs.
The episode added to the case for outside observers for the West Bank and Gaza. But Mr Sharon rejected such a measure, endorsed just hours earlier by foreign ministers of the G8 group of leading industrial countries at a pre-summit meeting in Rome.
His defence minister, Binyamin Bin Eliezer, momentarily showed some softening, telling Israeli TV he would accept observers - if it was a US force, and if Israel had no choice: "If something will be imposed on us ... then, without any other possibility, I will accept the presence of the CIA here."
The killings, which were condemned by Israelis of almost every political stripe, are bound to ignite new violence centred on Hebron, a cauldron of hatred where 400 Jewish settlers are surrounded by 120,000 Palestinians.
A spokesman for the Hebron settlers, David Wilder, would not condemn the attack. "If they ever do find who did shoot last night they'll find it was not a psychopathic killer but normal people who have just had it. How many funerals can you go to?"
Because the Tmeizi family was gunned down in a part of the West Bank that is entirely under Israeli military occupation, the killing affords Palestinians the chance to throw back in Mr Sharon's face his routine charge that Yasser Arafat is responsible for all acts of violence in Palestinian territory - including those by his opponents in the Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
"This horrible crime could not be carried out without the help of both the political and military levels in Israel," the Palestinian security chief in the West Bank told the Voice of Palestine radio.
For the people of Idna, a village about six miles north-west of the town, the killings are a tragedy. All of the dead are from the same extended clan, the Tmeizis. The car was ferrying passengers from a wedding at the centre of the village to a family home across the main road.
For the short trip the parents of the dead baby, Diya Tmeizi, had set their plump boy in the lap of a young auntie in the car, Mai Tmeizi.
Yesterday, Mai lay writhing in Hebron's al-Ahli hospital, her left leg encased in plaster studded with metal rods. A nurse held up an X-ray: from ankle to knee the leg was shredded by shrapnel, evidence of high velocity bullets.
Mai, 17, had been married for two weeks. The cluster of women at her bedside could not bear to tell her that her husband, Mohammed Salameh Tmeizi, was being buried yesterday.
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