Four Israeli tax collectors were burned, two of them severely, when gas bombs set their car afire in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Monday morning.
All of the victims were hospitalized, with two of them, reported in critical condition, undergoing surgery at Hadassah University Hospital on Mount Scopus.
Security forces arrested 40 suspects and imposed curfews at the scene of the incident and at the nearby Kaduri refugee camp.
The Israeli authorities said it was not certain whether the victims were attacked because of their occupation.
“It is possible that it was aimed at an Israeli vehicle and just happened to hit the collectors,” said Gaby Offir, commander of the Israel Defense Force in the West Bank.
Tax collectors are among the most hated symbols of Israeli authority in the administered territories and have been one of the main targets of the intifada since its beginning 20 months ago.
Palestinians are regularly exhorted by the leadership of the uprising not to pay their taxes. The authorities are equally determined to collect revenues in order to assert their control in the territories and to cover the expenses of the civil administration.
The four collectors were on their way to the local tax office for a day’s work when three gas bombs were hurled at their car near the eastern entrance to Ramallah, only yards from the Jerusalem-Nablus main highway.
Two of the bombs burst in the street. One smashed the windshield, enveloping the car in flames.
INHALATION OF FUMES
Two of the passengers trapped in the front seat, Gideon Zaken, 34, and Reuven Noam, 22, were burned on 40 percent to 60 percent of their bodies and suffered from inhalation of fumes.
In the back seat, 20-year-old Sigalit Maimoni of Hadera and 32-year-old Itzik Cohen of Jerusalem suffered only minor burns. An Arab bystander who witnessed the attack helped put out the fire with a hand-held extinguisher.
Maimoni described the attack from her hospital bed.
“All I saw that moment was just flames and fumes. I opened the (car) door. My hair and my clothes were on fire. But I didn’t pay any attention. I tried to rescue the two who sat in the front,” she said. Apparently, their door could not be opened from the outside.
“When my friend who sat next to me told me, ‘Sigi, you are on fire,’ I put the fire out. I rolled on the sand and put out the fire while they succeeded to get out of the car.”
A preliminary investigation established that two persons threw the bombs. “We are bound to find the attackers and punish them,” said Offir.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir denounced the “brutal attack,” which he said was the “continuation of a war waged against people without any purpose.
“The people responsible must know they will be caught, punished, will suffer and will cause suffering to their brethren,” Shamir said.
The attack capped several weeks of continuous unrest in the city marked by almost daily stone-throwing at Israeli soldiers.
Paradoxically, the bombing occurred only a day after senior military officers briefing the Cabinet said the intifada was losing steam.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.