Jewish Settler Shoots Two Soldiers, Mistaking Them for Arab Attackers

A Jewish settler from the West Bank shot two Israel Defense Force soldiers Wednesday night, mistaking them for Arabs who firebombed his car.

The tragic incident came in the midst of a national debate over civilian use of firearms in the administered territories.

Gedalya Becker of the settlement of Ma’aleh Amos was detained by police and released after interrogation. The two soldiers were wounded by the shooting and hospitalized.

Defense sources said Thursday this was not the first time that armed settlers in the territories endangered the lives of Israeli soldiers. The incident focused attention on the growing controversy over the use of arms and force by Jewish settlers against rioting and violent Palestinians.

Becker was attacked while driving his truck from Ma’aleh Amos on the road to Jerusalem. Two firebombs were thrown at his car, both missing their mark.

Several soldiers nearby spotted the attackers and started chasing them. Becker, who was not harmed in any way by the attack, got out of his car and fired 11 pistol shots at the figures in the dark, who turned out to be IDF soldiers.

The two wounded soldiers were evacuated with a helicopter to the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

Defense sources charged that recently settlers have begun opening fire even when their lives are not endangered. Wednesday’s incident, they said, was a case in point.

According to those sources, the settler should not have fired 11 shots in a situation in which his life was not endangered.

TOUCHES OFF POLITICAL STORM

The incident immediately ignited a political dispute.

Knesset member Ran Cohen of the left-wing Citizens Rights Movement demanded that the army confiscate the weapon from the settler and sue him, if necessary.

Cohen protested the encouragement allegedly given by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and the Tehiya party “to settlers who open fire indiscriminately on local residents and IDF soldiers.”

Shamir has been quoted as saying that he supports the use of firearms against stone-throwers, but his advisers deny it.

The Gush Emunim movement, meanwhile, issued a statement expressing deep regret over the incident, but claiming at the same time that Becker “acted according to the regulations.”

Professor Yuval Neeman, chairman of Tehiya, called on the Israeli left not to exploit “such a painful event.”

Michael Cohen of Hebron and Tehiya Knesset member Eliezer Waldman ended their hunger strike Wednesday in front of Shamir’s Jerusalem residence. They staged the strike to protest the confiscation of Cohen’s Uzi submachine gun by the police following a shooting incident.

The Uzi was returned to him after Shamir’s intervention. The premier reportedly told Cohen and Waldman that he would follow closely any case in which settlers’ weapons are confiscated.

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