Six Die In Bus Attack; Shamir Blocks U.S. Peace Plan; Protests Rage
DIMONA, Israel (AP) _ Three Palestinian guerrillas seized a commuter bus Monday and held nuclear plant workers hostage, killing three Israeli civilians and wounding nine before police shot the hijackers to death, officials said.
The Palestine Liberation Organization claimed responsibility, saying in a statement released in Nicosia, Cyprus, that the hijacking was part of ″escalating military action″ against Israel.
The statement said the guerrillas launched the attack from within Israel, and did not infiltrate from a neighboring country.
Israeli army officials said the guerrillas infiltrated from Egypt and held 10 women and one man hostage for about three hours. The bus was seized as it shuttled workers of the top-secret Dimona nuclear plant.
In the occupied territories, at least 12 Arabs were shot Monday during clashes with Israeli troops, and the army said Palestinian protesters hurled a grenade at troops, wounding one soldier slightly in the West Bank village of Idna.
Also, more than 20 Arab tax collectors in the Gaza Strip submitted mass resignations after underground leaflets called for Palestinians to quit working for Israel’s military administration. An army official says the resignations are not final.
Israeli analysts said escalating violence could harden the position of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and the right-wing Likud bloc, which has not accepted the peace initiatives of U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin told Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, that Monday’s bus victims ″were killed for mothing else but for their being Jewish, residents of Israel.″
In an anonymous telephone call to a Western news agency in Israel, a man said the hijacking was the work of PLO’s Force 17, a Palestinian commando group linked to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat.
If the commandos did come from Egypt, it would mark the eighth infiltration into Israel from Egypt, Jordan or Lebanon since late November.
Shamir said the infiltrations and the three months of violence in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip were part of a PLO strategy.
″These are the same people who incite violence in the (occupied) territories. We shall not tire from fighting them,″ Shamir said on Israel Radio.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Redman condemned the hijacking and noted ″with sadness that at a time when the majority ... are looking for a peaceful solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, terrorists emerge to attack the innocents.″
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, a leader of Israel’s doves, said the hijacking was an indication of why Israel refused to deal with Arafat.
″This shows exactly why the PLO is a disaster for both Arabs and Jews,″ Peres said.
Lt. Gen. Dan Shomron, the armed forces chief of staff, said the guerrillas crossed the lightly guarded border from Egypt, and he criticized Egyptian authorities for not doing more to stop such infiltrations.
Army officials said the terrorists were armed with fragmentation grenades, two Soviet Kalashnikov assault rifles and a Swedish-made Karl Gustav submachine gun.
The Arab gunmen first seized a small military vehicle at about 7 a.m. near the Nafha prison, a few miles from the Sinai Desert border with Egypt.
The guerrillas, riding in the captured vehicle, went on a rampage along the highway, shooting at passing cars and trucks and wounding one Israeli man in the leg, police officials said.
Police chased the car and shot out a tire, forcing the guerrillas to abandon the vehicle, police said.
The guerrillas then seized the red-and-white bus carrying workers to the Dimona nuclear plant, during which the bus’ driver and all but 11 passengers escaped. Police later stopped the vehicle by barricading the road near the Aroer junction.
The Arab trio was headed toward Beersheva, away from the nuclear facility, when they seized the bus, indicating the facility was not the target of the guerrillas.
The guerrillas gave Israeli authorities one hour to produce an International Red Cross official and free jailed Palestinians.
″They presented an ultimatum. If their demand were not met within half an hour, including the release of detainees and Palestinian terrorists, they will (kill) the hostages,″ said Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai, the army’s southern commander.
Moments later, Mordechai said, the guerrilla leader fatally shot in the chest Victor Ran, 39, the father of three children.
″When they fired and executed one of the hostages and fired at the women who were in the bus, despite our promises that we will not harm them ... we stormed the bus and killed the three terrorists,″ Mordechai said on Israel radio.
He said the assault by anti-terror police lasted about one minute.
Rina Shiratzky, 31, the mother of two, and Miriam Ben Yair, 46, the mother of four, were fatally wounded when Israeli soldiers stormed the bus.
Mordechai said an investigation showed the shots were fired by the Arab guerrillas.