By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
JERUSALEM, July 22 -- In the second such attack this month, a Palestinian construction worker driving an earthmover went on a rampage on a busy Jerusalem street Tuesday afternoon, injuring 16 people -- one seriously -- before being shot to death.
The attack occurred only a block from the King David Hotel, where Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was due to stay Tuesday night. Obama had not arrived at the time, and police said they did not believe there was any connection between the rampage and the senator's scheduled visit.
Still, the attack reinforced fears in Jerusalem, which until this spring had enjoyed four years of relative quiet. Tuesday's rampage followed an eerily similar incident just three weeks ago, when another Palestinian construction worker used an earthmover to ram cars and buses, killing three people and wounding more than 40. In March, a gunman killed eight students in a rabbinical seminary.
In all three incidents, a Palestinian resident of mostly Arab East Jerusalem crossed into predominantly Jewish West Jerusalem to carry out an attack. In each case, the Palestinian had an Israeli identity card that permitted him to work in Israel.
The string of attacks has ignited debate in Israel over whether more restrictions should be placed on Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem -- a challenge for a city that has not been physically divided since 1967. Israel captured East Jerusalem that year and later annexed it, although the move has not been internationally recognized.
There have also been calls in Israel for the government to take stronger action against the families of any Palestinian who carries out an attack.
"It's terrible that we can't walk outside without being in danger," said Nathaniel Sterman, 16, who witnessed Tuesday's rampage. Referring to the driver in the July 2 attack, he added, "If they had ruined his house or deported his family, maybe this man would have thought twice about what he did."
Tuesday's assailant was identified as Ghasan Abu Teir, 23, who had been operating the earthmover at the nearby construction site of a luxury apartment complex.
At his East Jerusalem home, family members said they were in shock. "He has no political affiliation," said a cousin, Mustafa Abu Teir. "All he does is work." He said his cousin was a religious man who had dropped out of school after eighth grade to get a job.
Witnesses described the assailant driving fast and with apparent intent to destroy the vehicles in his path. Just after 2 p.m., he rammed a bus and tried to turn it over with the earthmover's mechanical arm. When that failed, witnesses said, he went after passenger cars, crushing a white subcompact, flipping over a silver sedan and damaging two other vehicles.
His path of destruction extended 150 yards down King David Street, a bustling thoroughfare lined with upscale shops, the historic YMCA and the stately hotel, where scores of U.S. politicians and visiting heads of state have stayed.
"Everyone was in a panic," said Yohanan Levin, 16, who had been walking home from school. "I looked at his face," he said of Abu Teir. "He had come to kill."
Ghasan Abu Teir's rampage ended when a reserve-duty Israeli military officer, Yaakov Asael, 53, got out of his car and shot him dead, police said.
Obama, in Jordan, called the attack "a reminder of what Israelis have courageously lived with on a daily basis for far too long." He added, "I strongly condemn this attack and will always support Israel in confronting terrorism and pursuing lasting peace and security."
Special correspondents Samuel Sockol and Sufian Taha contributed to this report.