This week’s drive-by shooting near the West Bank settlement of Beit El has prompted Israeli hardliners to contend that Israel bargained away its security needs for an uneasy peace with the Palestinians.
Monday’s shooting, which killed David Baum, 17, an Israeli who emigrated from the United States with his family 11 years ago, comes in the midst of Israel’s heated election campaign.
Observers have noted that a terrorist attack near the May 29 polling date could tip the balance among the as-yet undecided voters and provide a victory to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu over Prime Minister Shimon Peres in their tight race for the premiership.
The drive-by shooting at a hitchhiking station near Beit El, located north of the West Bank town of Ramallah, prompted settler leaders to demand more stringent anti-terrorist measures.
Settler leader Aharon Domb called on the Peres government to “stop its idle chat and give security forces the green light” to crack down on terrorists.
Rehavam Ze’evi, head of the right-wing Moledet Party, blamed the attack on Israel’s handover of Ramallah to Palestinian self-rule late last year.
Foreign Minister Ehud Barak countered that Israel was determined to crack down on the “enemies of the peace process” as it continued to pursue that process with the Palestinians.
Israel has been on a heightened security alert prior to the elections, after several officials warned that terrorists would launch attacks in an effort to sway Israeli voters to vote for Netanyahu, who the terrorists believe would halt the peace process.
Minutes before firing on the hitchhiking station, terrorists traveling in a silver Subaru or Mitsubishi opened fire on a bus traveling on the Jerusalem- Ramallah road, witnesses said.
No one inside was struck because the bus, like many Israeli vehicles in the territories, was bulletproof.
Two passengers were lightly hurt when the bus driver hit the brakes after the shooting.
The car containing the terrorists then continued north. Further along the road, they opened fire on the hitchhiking stand, severely wounding two yeshiva students, including Baum, who later died after sustaining wounds to the head.
The terrorists continued driving northward, but their car flipped over as they fled the scene.
The terrorists then fled in a second vehicle. Israeli security forces exploded the abandoned car, fearing that it was booby-trapped, and pressed on with their search for the attackers.