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Israeli Kills Seven Palestinians; Rioting Leaves Five More Dead

May 20, 1990

RISHON LETZION, Israel (AP) _ A former Israeli soldier armed with an assault rifle killed seven Palestinian laborers and wounded 11 on Sunday. The unprovoked attack caused widespread rioting in the occupied territories that left at least five more Arabs dead and hundreds injured.

The assailant, dressed in army pants and a black jacket, confronted the laborers, ordered them to sit in a line, then opened fire, police said. The victims apparently followed his orders because they mistook him for a soldier.

The army called up reinforcements and imposed curfews on the entire Gaza Strip and half a dozen refugee camps and cities in the West Bank, confining more than a million people to their homes.

But Palestinians wild with anger over the assault on the laborers outside Rishon Letzion, near Tel Aviv, defied the stay-at-home orders and attacked army outposts, stoned passing Israeli cars and blocked roads, Arab reports said.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir went on Israel radio to condemn the attack on the laborers and called on Palestinians to ignore agitators who sought to incite riots in the occupied lands, already torn by the 29-month-old uprising.

″We were all disgusted by the terrible crime that happened today. It is a cruel crime without any justification,″ Shamir said.

Police and witnesses said up to 50 laborers were present during the attack and that seven were killed and 11 wounded, five seriously. An earlier police report had said that eight Palestinians died in the attack.

Police said the shooting of the unarmed Palestinian laborers at a busy road junction was the gravest incident of its kind in memory.

They arrested a 21-year-old former soldier who was recently discharged from the military after serving a jail term for defying his commander.

Arab reporters said five Palestinians were killed in Gaza and two in the West Bank in rioting that followed the assault on the laborers. Arab hospitals and United Nations clinics in Gaza reported more than 400 injuries from live ammunition, rubber and plastic bullets, beatings and tear gas inhalation.

The army said at least five Palestinians were killed in rioting. There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries among Israeli soldiers.

In all, it was one of the bloodiest days since the Palestinian uprising began and could rekindle the violence that had been declining in the occupied territories in recent months. Before Sunday’s violence, 688 Palestinians and 43 Israelis had died in the unrest.

Police said the former soldier who carried out the attack took his brother’s Israeli-made Galil assault rifle.

They said he hid in the underbrush near Rishon Letzion, a town five miles south of Tel Aviv, emerging shortly after dawn to confront a group of day laborers. He ordered to sit in a line.

Khalil Abu Amsha, 30, a worker wounded in the left arm and leg, said he was in a car that was flagged down by the gunman. Survivors said they thought the gunman was a soldier because he wore army pants.

″We thought he wanted to check the car,″ said Abu Amsha, noting that 20 Palestinians were already seated on the ground when the car pulled up.

″He said sit by your friends. We sat. He said take out your magnetic (identity) cards. He said, ‘Do you know why I stopped you?’ We said no. He said, ’Good that you don’t know.‴

Then he opened fire.

Abu Amsha said he managed to roll into a ditch after being hit.

The attack occurred about 100 yards from the busy Roses Junction, an intersection outside Rishon Lezion. Arab laborers from the Gaza Strip gather daily about dawn in a field near the intersection to be picked up for construction work and other day jobs jobs in Israel.

Police said the assailant gave himself up at the home of a friend. Police said the man gave a motive of unrequited love as the reason for his attack.

″In interrogation, he sounded very relaxed. He didn’t express regret. He sat calmly and explained things,″ said Haim Klein, police commander of the southern district. ″He spoke of personal motives that brought him to do this. I don’t know if that is accurate.″

Speaking on Israel army radio, Klein said the suspect did not mention political motives, but ″the question arises if they were personal motives, then why did he attack Arabs and not Jews?″

Palestinian leaders blamed Shamir’s right-wing government for creating an anti-Arab atmosphere that encouraged extremist acts against Arabs.

Faisal Husseini, a prominent pro-PLO activist, said Shamir and his allies had created a climate for anti-Arab actions.

″Even if this man is mentally sick the atmosphere created by such a government is responsible,″ he told The Associated Press.

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