Stabbing of Another Israeli Casts Shadow over Baker Visit

A stabbing Monday in Ramallah following four fatal knifings in Jerusalem less than 24 hours earlier cast a pall of hate, fear and tension over Israel as U.S. Secretary of State James Baker arrived for diplomatic talks.

A 24-year-old Arab woman suddenly plunged a blade into an Israeli civilian outside the Ramallah police station. She was immediately shot and wounded by Israel Defense Force soldiers standing nearby.

The victim, identified as Yigal Lowenstein, a Jewish settler from Eli, near Ramallah in the West Bank, was hospitalized for wounds to the lung.

His assailant, also hospitalized, was reported in serious condition.

The attack occurred at the same time as the funerals of four women who were brutally knifed to death Sunday in a seemingly random attack by a Palestinian man from the Gaza Strip.

Perhaps the saddest funeral was that of Bella Levitsky, a 61-year-old French teacher from Moscow who immigrated to Israel with her husband, Noy, in January after waiting for decades to join their two sons and grandchild.

The other victims laid to rest Monday were Rose Elyafsour, 32; Mercedes Banita, 57; and Miriam Biton, 20.

They were struck down in broad daylight at a bus stop near a playground filled with children in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Yovel neighborhood.

Their killer, identified as Mohammed Mustafa Abu-Ghala, a 26-year-old nurse from the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza, told police he was sending “a message to Baker.”

That indicated a political motive behind the stabbings timed to coincide with Baker’s visit.

The attacks are also believed by Israeli authorities to be a desperate attempt by Palestinian activists to revive the intifada, which was curbed by blanket curfews during the seven-week Persian Gulf war.

The fact that both assailants screamed “Allahu akhbar” (God is great) as they attacked indicated the rising influence of Islamic religious extremists in the intifada.

In Ramallah on Monday, the assailant concealed her knife in a parcel of clothes, which she held as if cradling a child. She pulled it out suddenly, taking her victim by surprise.

CONDEMNATION FROM SOME PALESTINIANS

Palestinian leaders publicly condemned the Jerusalem killings, notably Mayor Elias Freij of Bethlehem, a well-known moderate, and activist Faisal Husseini of East Jerusalem.

But privately, Palestinian dignitaries were heard to say they understood the motives. The attacks were “an expression of agony by an oppressed people,” said one leader.

The attacks put a damper on the planned reception for Baker.

Jerusalem police sealed the city off from the administered territories Monday, bringing life to a virtual halt in East Jerusalem.

The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine called a general strike to protest U.S. policy, which was largely observed. Most shops and businesses in East Jerusalem were shuttered and the streets empty, except for the heavy police presence.

A curfew was clamped on the Shuafat refugee camp, the only one within Jerusalem’s city limits. Police Chief Haim Albaldes said disorders in East Jerusalem would be met by curfew.

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