A Palestinian gunman shot and killed an Israeli army reservist and lightly wounded another Sunday at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
The army’s West Bank commander said the attack was carried out by a terrorist group affiliated with the Moslem fundamentalist organization Hamas, which opposes the Middle East peace talks.
The gunman fired two or three bursts of automatic fire from a range of 30 yards at the soldiers as they stood guard outside the tomb, which is holy to both Jews and Moslems.
Because of the close range, the shots penetrated the bulletproof vest worn by Shmuel Gersh, 32, of Rishon le-Zion, according to Brig. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, the Israel Defense Force commander in the West Bank. The attack occurred at 1 p.m.
Both soldiers were able to return fire but the attackers fled down an alleyway, where they escaped in a waiting car. Efforts to save Gersh’s life failed.
The army believes the same Hamas group that perpetrated Sunday’s attack was responsible for an attack last week in which one soldier was seriously wounded and an officer slightly wounded. The attack occurred when the two were fired upon from a car as they drove an army vehicle south of Hebron.
The attack at the Tomb of the Patriarchs was the most recent in a wave of terrorist assaults over the past month which began in association with a hunger strike by thousands of security prisoners. That demonstration has meanwhile ended with an agreement between the prison authority and the inmates, but the resurgence in the intifada continues.
Thousands of Palestinian workers rioted early Sunday at a Gaza Strip checkpoint, reportedly in protest against delays in getting through the barrier. They set on fire at least a dozen buses at the Erez checkpoint, reports said. The Egged bus company called on the government to discuss the deteriorating situation.
Paradoxically, the Cabinet, at its weekly session Sunday, heard “senior security officials” report that the current wave of the intifada was on a downturn.
Responding to the latest killing of an Israeli by a Palestinian, hundreds of Jewish settlers from Hebron poured onto Jerusalem streets later in the day. They caused traffic snarls and also engaged in clashes with the police.
Some 700 of the settlers marched angrily to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s residence, accusing him of not protecting them and calling for his removal from office. They carried banners with such slogans as “Rabin go home” and “Peace talks in Washington. Jewish blood in Israel.”
Opposition parties have also reacted angrily to this latest attack. The Likud bloc planned to submit a motion of no-confidence in the government as the Knesset opened its winter session this week. It was likely to be joined by the right-wing Tsomet party, whose leader, Rafael Eitan, has been courted by Rabin as a possible coalition partner.
Eitan has demanded that Rabin instruct the Israeli delegation to the peace talks to return home from Washington immediately. The Tsomet leader urged that Israel order a curfew in Hebron and stage a house-to-house search for the attacker.
In the National Religious Party, Knesset member Hanan Porat plans to call for parliamentary deliberation into the worsening situation in the West Bank.