Masked Gunmen Kill Three Arab Students and Injure 30 in Hebron

Three Arab students were killed and 30 injured today in Hebron, the largest Arab city on the West Bank, by masked gunmen who jumped out of a stationwagon and opened fire with automatic weapons on a crowd of the students in what was described as the worst act of violence in the West Bank in several years. The incident was followed by riots, according to reports from Hebron.

Eyewitnesses said that four men drove up to a spot across from the Islamic College in Hebron in midday and began shooting. The gunmen then jumped back in the vehicle and raced away, leaving a heap of tangled bodies on the ground. Israeli security sources said the four attackers fired Kalashnikov rifles and also threw a hand grenade at the students who were taking a noon break in classes.

CITY SEALED OFF BY ISRAELI TROOPS

Several hundred Israeli troops immediately sealed Hebron off with roadblocks and imposed a curfew on the city, scene of repeated clashes between Jewish settlers and Arab residents. Reporters trying to enter Hebron were turned back at Kiryat Arba, a Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Hebron. Israeli army helicopters patrolled the area. Regional commander Ori Orr came to Hebron to take charge of the search for the killers. Military vehicles dispatched to Hebron clogged the road from Jerusalem.

The wounded students, including a number of girls, were taken to a local hospital. Distressed families rushed to the hospital for information on the identity of the wounded and their condition, military authorities said.

Tension has been at a high level for months in Hebron, which is sacred to Jews and Moslems. On July 7, a yeshiva student, Aharon Gross, 19, was stabbed to death in the Hebron vegetable market, touching off a rampage by Jewish settlers against Arab residents.

INVESTIGATING TWO THEORIES

Israeli security sources declared they were investigating two theories, one that the attack was carried out by Jewish settlers in the spiraling violence and counter-violence, and the other that the attackers were Palestinian terrorists. Students at the Islamic College are bitterly divided between rival factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Moslem Brotherhood.

One of the main reasons for the rise in Jewish-Arab tensions has been the influx of thousands of ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers, led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger. The settlers have built a modern township in Kiryat Arba. They have also moved a few families into Hebron’s old Jewish quarter, living under Israeli guard. Hebron had a substantial Jewish presence until 1929 when Arab rioters murdered 67 of the Jews.

Officials said the hit-and-run attack today was the worst single incident on the West Bank since May, 1980 when six Jews were ambushed and shot dead as they were returning to their homes from a synagogue in Hebron.

Moshe Nissim, Israel’s Justice Minister, told the Knesset that Israel deplored the killings and had ordered a major investigation to find the perpetrators.

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