TEL AVIV (Apr. 25)
Two Knesset members have demanded a full scale inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the killing of four terrorists who hijacked a Tel Aviv-to-Ashkelon bus on April 12 with the intention of taking its passengers hostage.
Ehud Olmert of Likud and Victor Shemtov of the opposition Labor Alignment agreed today that the facts must be ascertained to relieve Israel of suspicion, implicit in foreign media reports, that one of the terrorists was murdered after his capture.
Defense Minister Moshe Arens said in a radio interview Monday that he had no reason to disbelieve the army’s version of what occurred. He said, however, that the military is “routinely” examining the incident and would submit a full report to him shortly. According to the army, two of the terrorists were killed instantly when troops stormed the bus in the early hours of Friday, April 13 to rescue the passengers. A third terrorist died of his wounds a short while later and the fourth died on the way to a hospital, the army said. (One Israeli woman soldier, Irit Portuguez, 19, was killed in the shootout and seven passengers were wounded.) The four terrorists, all residents of the Gaza Strip, were buried on April 15 under army supervision.
But an Israeli reporter from the newspaper Hadoshot, who was at the scene, said he saw one of the terrorists, apparently unharmed, being led away from the bus handcuffed by two Israeli plainclothes security men. The reporter took a photograph of the man.
According to reports in the Israeli and foreign media, the photograph was readily identified by friends and relatives as Majdi Abu Jama, 18, of Beni Shuheila village in the Gaza Strip, one of the four men who hijacked the Egged bus.
The army claimed this was a case of mistaken identity. According to the official version, a bus passenger initially mistaken for a terrorist, was held in custody for a while but released after he established his identity as a Jew travelling to Ashkelon. A bus passenger who was not immediately identified was quoted as telling reporters that he was arrested but let go when he produced his identity card.
SEEK TO CLEAR ISRAEL’S NAME
Nevertheless, the implication that one of the terrorists was taken alive and was killed while in custody of the Israeli authorities persists. Olmert said today that publication of the story abroad before all the facts were clarified has severely damaged Israel’s reputation.
Shemtov said the Israel Defense Force would be well advised “to put on the table all the details regarding the death” of the terrorists in order to clear Israel of the “libel” that is being spread around the world.
He added that “if some aberation occurred, those responsible should be tried.” There is no capita punishment in Israel. Captured terrorists convicted of murder are given life sentences.