A curfew was in effect and Israeli troops patrolled this village in the Israeli-occupied West Bank today after Arab gunmen opened fire on a public bus last night, wounding seven passengers, including five Jews and two Arabs.
The tight security was imposed after hundreds of Jewish settlers from the nearby city of Hebron drove in cars and buses to Halhoul to protest the attack and smashed the windows of at least a dozen Arab homes and attacked a mosque near where the bus had been fired upon.
Last night's attack, in which about 50 bullets were fired at the bus by two or three Arab gunmen, came amid rising incidents of violence along the main roads of the occupied West Bank in the last several weeks. Security authorities have reported a sharp rise in incidents in which cars and buses carrying Jews have been hit by gunfire, rocks and gasoline-filled bottles.
Two of the wounded in last night's attack, an Arab and a Jew, were taken by military helicopter to a Jerusalem hospital. The remainder were treated for their injuries and released.
Several Halhoul residents today defied the curfew to escort two foreign correspondents around the village, showing damage from what they said was an hour-long stone-throwing and shooting rampage by angry Jewish settlers.
Mohammed Zamarai, a 60-year-old unemployed construction worker who said he now sells apples in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem to support his family, said that while bands of youths roamed through Halhoul smashing windows, most of the demonstrators sat in the middle of the Hebron Road singing nationalistic songs. He said Army troops protected the demonstrators who were sitting in the highway.
"Why do they do this? I am not political. If I see my son throwing a stone at a car, I will hit him," said Zamarai.
The village mosque today showed signs of heavy damage, with dozens of windows smashed and the carpeted prayer area inside littered with rocks. Some of the damaged houses had bullet holes in the windows and interior walls. Several cars were also damaged.
Among those leading the protest, according to Halhoul residents and Jewish settlers from the nearby Kiryat Arba settlement, were Rabbi Meir Kahane, a member of parliament who advocates the expulsion of all Arabs from the West Bank, and Rabbi Moshe Levinger, leader of the Hebron settlement movement.
Rahel Klein, Kiryat Arba leader of the rightist Tehyia Party, said in an interview that the settlement's council, upon hearing of the attack on the bus, decided on a mass demonstration in Halhoul, and that a van with a loudspeaker drove through the settlement urging residents to drive to Halhoul.
She said that "some people were throwing stones" but that the majority simply staged a sitdown in the highway and sang songs.
Klein said the mosque was attacked because it had been used as "a cover for the terrorists."