TEL AVIV (Feb. 10)
Three armed infiltrators from Jordan who may have been on a suicide mission were killed Friday morning by Israel Defense Force soldiers, after the intruders ambushed and wounded four other soldiers traveling in a bus on a road in the Negev.
The intruders carried Kalachnikov assault rifles, grenades, knives and axes. Copies of the Koran were found on their bodies with documents certifying them to be “religious martyrs.”
Such documents are usually issued to the families of Moslems who fall in battle.
A hitherto unknown group in Amman calling itself the Army of Mohammed took responsibility and announced that the men had “died bravely while attacking the enemy.”
IDF sources believe the intruders were members of the Jordanian Popular Army, which was recently issued arms by the Jordanian government.
Recently, Islamic fundamentalists in Jordan have attained prominent places in Jordan’s Parliament and been given new latitude by King Hussein. On Fridays, the Moslem Sabbath, religious leaders have counseled attacking Israel as part of their weekly sermons.
The infiltrators crossed the unmarked border in the Arava region of the Negev and took ambush positions in a wadi, or dry river bed, near the Tsukim road junction. Their first target was the bus, a civilian vehicle carrying soldiers home on leave from Eilat.
The driver, a civilian, said later that three men suddenly rose from a roadside gully pointing weapons at him. He said one of them lobbed a grenade into the bus, and the explosive device landed at his feet. The driver said he tossed it out before it exploded.
After he sped on for another six-tenths of a mile, the driver said, he stopped the bus, ordered the passengers out and summoned help by two-way radio.
The infiltrators meanwhile opened fire on a military vehicle and on another bus filled with soldiers, wounding four of them.
Three of the soldiers were reported to have sustained minor wounds. The fourth, a woman, suffered light to medium wounds.
The southern border region has been on alert since November, when an infiltrator from Egypt killed four soldiers and a civilian bus driver in a road ambush northwest of Eilat.
The latest infiltration came two days after King Hussein made a provocative speech effectively ending his professed neutrality in the Persian Gulf war.
SHAMIR PLAYS DOWN THREAT
Jordan has been roiling with pro-Iraqi, anti-American demonstrations, particularly since Jordanian truck drivers have been killed by allied fire while driving on the road connecting Jordan with Iraq and after Washington announced it would review economic aid to that country.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has played down the latest infiltration while nonetheless expressing concern over King Hussein’s speech, in which the monarch openly aligned himself with Saddam Hussein.
In an interview Friday, Shamir said he expected the Jordanian border would quiet down when the Gulf war ends. But he and other government leaders have also expressed apprehension over the king’s speech.
The king, appearing Sunday on American television, rebutted the recent strong criticism of his speech, saying he still opposed Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait and was hurt by the U.S. reaction to his speech, which Jordanians themselves have said was directed at Jordanian ears.
However, during his interview on ABC-TV’s “This Week With David Brinkley,” King Hussein did not condemn Iraq or its missile attacks on Israel. He said Iraq “probably feels that it is being struck by the United States, and it’s striking at strategic allies of the United States.”
The king maintained that the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait should be resolved in the context of a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian problem as well as that of divided Cyprus.
At Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, defense specialists gave an assessment of King Hussein’s power, concluding that despite the problems the monarch is undergoing, his regime is not in imminent danger of collapse, according to a report on the combined broadcasts of Israel Radio and army radio.
(JTA correspondent David Landau in Jerusalem contribute to this report.)