Crowd lynch Israeli who killed 4 Arabs

A JEWISH extremist in an army uniform opened fire inside a bus in an Arab town in northern Israel yesterday, killing four Arab citizens and ratcheting up tensions in the country just two weeks before the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

After the shootings in the town of Shfaram a group boarded the bus and lynched the gunman.

Last night the dead assailant was identified as Eden Natan-Zada, 19, a soldier who had deserted from his army unit recently after refusing to take part in an operation to prepare for the pull-out, police said.

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He was living in Tapuach, a West Bank settlement known for its extreme anti-Arab views, according to Israeli media reports. Settlers and their supporters view the pullback as a violation of perceived Jewish rights to all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"It seems like Jewish terror against Arabs," said Avi Zelba, a police spokesman.

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, called the shootings "a despicable act by a bloodthirsty terrorist".

Thousands of enraged demonstrators encircled the bus for hours last night, preventing police from removing the man's body.

The dead included the bus driver and two women passengers, while 13 people were wounded in the attack.

Moshe Karadi, the national police commissioner, said the killings could lead to further violence.

Gideon Ezra, the internal security minister, said authorities had feared precisely such an attack as an attempt to derail the withdrawal.

"It is clear that this attack could have been a result of [far-right] incitement," he said.

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Officials have said in recent weeks that extremists might try to stage a major anti-Arab terrorist attack or an assault on the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem to incite Palestinian violence that could derail the withdrawal.

But analysts said yesterday's attack was unlikely to scupper the unilateral withdrawal from the 21 Gaza colonies, the first pullback from occupied territory that the Palestinians view as part of their future state.

Zuheir Andreas, the editor of the Kul al-Arab Arabic newspaper, said: "I hope this will not have severe consequences for the relations between the Palestinian citizens of Israel and the state or the relations between Jews and Arabs."

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