JERUSALEM – An AWOL Israeli soldier wearing a uniform and a yarmulke opened fire on a bus in an Arab town in northern Israel on Thursday, killing four people and wounding a dozen others in an attack that Israeli officials quickly labeled Jewish terrorism. The 19-year-old shooter, who reportedly had said he boarded the bus to kill Arabs, was in turn beaten to death by an angry mob of Shfaram residents.
Israeli media said the soldier had abandoned his army unit two months earlier over his refusal to participate in Israel’s planned Gaza and West Bank withdrawal. The shooting attack was quickly condemned as an effort to spark further violence and derail the evacuation due to begin in less than two weeks.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other leaders urged calm in the face of worries that the shooting might incite rioting by Arab citizens. Israeli officials have been concerned about possible attacks on Arabs or Jewish leaders by ultranationalists. Security around Sharon has been especially tight in recent months amid fears of pullout-related violence.
“This was a reprehensible act by a bloodthirsty Jewish terrorist who sought to attack innocent Israeli citizens,” Sharon said in a statement. “This terrorist event was a deliberate attempt to harm the fabric of relations among all Israeli citizens.”
The soldier was identified as Eden Tsuberi, but Israeli television reports said he had enlisted in the military as Natan Zada.
He was described as an observant Jew who had been spending time in the West Bank settlement of Tapuah, well-known as a hotbed of hard-line religious and nationalist views, residents there said. Acquaintances described him as newly devout and quiet. He found adherents of the banned ultranationalist Kach movement through the Internet, residents said.
An Israeli police spokesman, Chief Superintendent Avi Zelba, said authorities had yet to establish the young man’s motive. “It’s very hard to label things,” Zelba said. “However, this is a very, very serious incident.”
The gunman opened fire as the passenger bus traveled through Shfaram, a town of Arab Muslims and Christians, and Druse near the port city of Haifa. The town’s mayor, Ursan Yassin, told Israeli Channel 10 television that the shooter declared he wanted to kill Arabs.
“He got on the bus to shoot Arabs; that’s what he told people. This is exactly what he said when he got on the bus,” Yassin said.
Settler leaders opposed to Sharon’s plan to exit Gaza also condemned the shooting. “We are all as shocked as everyone else at this madness perpetrated by a madman,” said one leader, Benzi Lieberman.