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Arab Guerillas Seize Bus; Six Killed

March 7, 1988

BEERSHEVA, Israel (AP) _ Arab guerrillas in southern Israel hijacked a passenger bus today and held it for three hours before Israeli troops stormed it, killing three gunmen. Three Israeli civilians also were killed and eight were wounded, an army communique said.

Israel’s state-run radio said the terrorists infiltrated from Egypt and were armed with fragmentation grenades, assault rifles and a submachine gun.

A man claiming to represent the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Force 17 phoned a Western news agency in Jerusalem and claimed responsibility for the hijacking.

Israel radio said a PLO spokesman in Tunis told CBS news the group was not responsible for the attack. But a survivor from the bus said she heard the Arab gunmen say they were from Fatah, the PLO faction headed by Yasser Arafat.

A special anti-terrorist unit and border police stormed the bus, which was loaded with nuclear plant workers and hijacked near the Aroer junction eight miles from the Dimona nuclear facility.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir linked the attack to the rioting in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

″These are the same people who incite violence in the (occupied) territories. We shall not tire from fighting them,″ said Shamir.

He noted today’s attack was the second infiltration in two days. Three Palestinian guerrillas were killed by army soldiers on Sunday after they tried to cross the Lebanon border.

Israel radio and officials said the terrorists came across the lightly guarded border from Egypt at night near Ramat Nafha and commandeered an Israeli military automobile at about 7 a.m.

The Arab guerrillas drove the Renault-4 towards the Beersheva-Dimona highway, throwing a hand grenade at an Israeli semi-trailer but causing no injuries.

The army and witnesses said a Volvo bus with the nuclear workers was coming from the opposite direction, and the gunmen fired at the bus and threw grenades until it stopped.

Most of the passengers and the driver escaped but a man and nine women remained, the radio said.

The last bus hijacking inside Israel occurred on April 12, 1984, when four bomb-weilding Palestinians hijacked an Israeli bus near the Mediterranean coastal city of Ashdod. A soldier was killed on the bus when Israeli troops stormed the vehicle and captured the hijackers.

Officials at Soroka Hospital in Beersheva said eight women were admitted for treatment of gunshot wounds.

Police forced the bus to stop after the terrorists fired from the bus at passing people and cars. Police closed the area, and army officers entered into negotiations with terrorists.

The Arab gunmen demanded to speak with representatives of the International Red Cross and also asked for a loudspeaker.

Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai, commander of Israel’s southern region, decided to storm the bus rather than negotiate further after the gunmen opened fire.

″We made every effort to both relax them and to promise them that negotiations may bring results,″ Mordechai told reporters at the scene.

″(But) they fired at us twice and afterwards they fired and killed one of the hostages and fired at women who were inside the bus,″ he said.

In all, he said, the storming operation lasted about a minute.

Mordechai said the man was killed by Arab gunmen during negotiations. He said shots fired by the terrorists when the bus was stormed appeared to have killed the women.

The victims were not identified, apparently because of the sensitivity of their jobs.

At the hospital, David, a curly-haired man in his late 20s, said he saw armed terrorists block the blue Volvo bus, a special commuter vehicle carrying women workers from a plant in Dimona.

″The terrorists blocked the bus and didn’t give the driver a chance to turn around and get away,″ he said. ″The driver opened the door and many of the passengers scrambled out. About a half-dozen remained on the bus.″

David said the bus hijacking began about 7:30 a.m. and he watched the hijacking from another bus. He declined to give his last name.

Rafi Hayon, a motorist traveling the Beersheva-Dimona highway, said the Arab gunmen armed with Soviet-made automatic rifles shot at his car when he refused to stop for them.

″I saw only two Kalashnikovs in front of my eyes,″ he said in an interview broadcast by Israel radio.

It was the bloodiest attack by Palestinian guerrillas since a hang-glider attack in late November in which a guerrilla landed in northern Israel and shot to death six Israeli soldiers and wounded eight.

The Dimona plant is at the center of a secret trial now going on in Israel.

Mordechai Vanunu, a former nuclear technician at Dimona, revealed Israel’s atomic secrets to The Sunday Times of London in an expose published Oct. 5, 1986. Based on Vanunu’s information, the newspaper concluded Israel possessed the world’s sixth largest nuclear arsenal.

In the Sunday Times story, Vanunu detailed the route taken by 40 blue and white Volvo buses he said transported workers to the nuclear plant each day.

Vanunu, 33, was tried on charges of treason and espionage for revealing Israel’s nuclear capability and the three-judge panel in the closed-door trial is currently deliberating its verdict.

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