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>JN
>Israel Faxx
>PD Jan. 2, 1997, Vol. 5, No. 1

Israeli Soldier Opens Fire in Hebron

By Patricia Golan (VOA-Jerusalem)

An Israeli soldier opened fire in a crowded market in Hebron Wednesday, wounding seven Palestinians -- two of them seriously. The attack occurred just as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were said to be ready to reach a deal to give most of the town self-rule.

Witnesses say the soldier simply walked up to the edge of the crowded market and opened fire with his M-16 automatic rifle before being disarmed. He was dressed in full uniform and wore a skullcap -- the mark of an Orthodox religious Jew.

Shortly after the attack, a Palestinian witness, Mazan Bana, described the scene to Israel's army radio station: "And he started shooting in all directions...one Israeli soldier with military clothes he's shooting there. When he finished the full magazine, three soldiers came and hugged and let him down to the ground and they took his gun and finally they arrested him."

Local television cameramen captured on videotape the Israeli soldier overpowering the gunman, holding him on the ground until other troops came to arrest him.

The attack was reminiscent of the 1994 Hebron massacre in which an U.S.-born settler from the nearby "Kiryat Arba" settlement, dressed in an Israeli army uniform, opened fire in the "Tomb of the Patriarchs," killing 29 Palestinian worshipers before survivors beat him to death.

The gunman has been identified as Noam Friedman, a resident of the West Bank Israeli town of Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem. Friedman, who has been in the regular army for several months, was not serving in Hebron. Israeli officials say he said he was trying to stop the emerging agreement on Hebron and stop a troop pullback.

Before his military service, Friedman was a student at a Jerusalem yeshiva. He was expelled from the yeshiva before completing his studies. Friends and teachers of Friedman told Arutz-7 Radio that in the past, he had severe behavioral problems and was referred to psychological treatment.

The agreement in which Israel is to hand over most of Hebron to Palestinian self-rule is said to be nearly completed. Groups opposed to a peace accord -- both Jewish and Palestinian -- have threatened violence to prevent the negotiations from succeeding.

Israel Defense Minister Itzhik Mordechai, touring the scene in Hebron, said the shooting will not sabotage the agreement. "We are continuing the negotiations with the Palestinians. I hope that in very short time we'll complete the agreement and after the agreement will be signed, the army is ready to redeploy in a very short time."

Palestinians Negotiators say the shooting is proof that Israeli troops must withdraw immediately from the city. The Hebron settlers' spokesman says the shooting proves the need for Israel's total control of the city. If Palestinian police had been deployed, he says, there could have been clashes between the PLO and Israelis after such an incident.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the shooting as a criminal act. "The agreement that we have been laboring under for several months has been designed to prevent precisely such acts of violence...and that is why we are committed, and no crime will stand in our way of doing so."

But Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Yasir Arafat have yet to agree to a summit to initial the long-awaited Hebron agreement. President Clinton's special Middle East envoy met again Wednesday with both Netanyahu and Arafat. There are hopes that the top Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will resume their talks in Jerusalem to try to bridge the last remaining gaps in the agreement.

Clinton condemned the outbreak of violence and called Arafat to express his condolences. A White House statement says the president condemns the shooting as a cowardly act -- clearly designed to make it more difficult to conclude an agreement on Israeli deployment from Hebron.

The statement says the best answer to the incident would be for Israeli and Palestinian officials to close the remaining gaps and move forward with the hard work of forging a durable peace.


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