Palestinian gunman shoots 10 in Tel Aviv

TEL AVIV, Israel, AP

A Palestinian gunman firing an automatic rifle from a car shot 10 people Sunday, most of them soldiers, on a bustling street outside Israel’s Defense Ministry in downtown Tel Aviv. The gunman was hit by return fire and seriously wounded.

Hours later, Israeli helicopters fired missiles in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, killing a Hamas activist Amer Mansour Habiri, 23, as he traveled in a car, witnesses said. The car was completely destroyed in the attack, said Morad Yassin, one of the witnesses.

Israel’s army, which has killed about 50 Palestinians in targeted attacks during the current fighting, claimed that he was responsible for bombings and shootings, and was organizing suicide attacks that were to take place within days.

In another development Sunday, Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reasserted his strong opposition to the Palestinian demand for international observers in the Middle East conflict. “We will not be able to accept international forces or international observers,” Sharon told the Fox News Channel.

The Palestinians say they want monitors to keep tabs on Israel’s powerful military, but the Israelis have long resisted such calls, saying that such a force would not be effective and may be biased against Israel.

Palestinian gunmen carry out daily shooting attacks against Israeli targets, but most take place in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Sunday’s shooting alarmed many Tel Aviv residents because the city has been an infrequent target of attack during the 10 months of Mideast fighting.

“This is a symbolic issue. (The Palestinians) are bringing attacks to the middle of Tel Aviv, the largest Israeli city, very close to the fences of the main military installation,” said army spokesman Brig. Gen. Ron Kitrey. “This is the first time they have shot, as far as I remember, in such a way in a large city.”

The gunman, traveling in a black car, opened fire with an M-16 automatic rifle as many of the soldiers were leaving the Defense Ministry building to go to lunch. Of the 10 injured, eight were soldiers. The wounded suffered light to moderate injuries.

Soldiers and police fired back and hit the gunman, seriously wounding him in the chest, police said. The gunman’s car crashed at a nearby construction site, and he collapsed.

Palestinian security sources identified the gunman as Ali al-Julani, a 30-year-old from east Jerusalem. There was no immediate word on whether he was linked to any Palestinian political group.

Tel Aviv was the scene of a Palestinian suicide bombing on June 1 that killed 21 young people outside a disco. That was the deadliest single attack in the Israeli-Palestinian fighting. But Tel Aviv, on the Mediterranean coast, is regarded as safer than most cities because of the large security presence and its distance from the Palestinian territories.

Earlier Sunday, Israeli helicopters fired rockets at Palestinian police offices in Rafah, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli raid followed repeated mortar attacks by the Palestinians.

The commander of Palestinian national security in Rafah, Col. Fawzi Zaqouk, said three missiles hit his office, causing considerable damage but no casualties. He said he and other officers heard the helicopters approaching and left the building.

Asked if he believed he was the target of the raid, Zaqouk told The Associated Press, “All Palestinians are now the target of the Israeli military.” The Israeli military said it acted after Palestinian militants fired 26 mortar rounds at Jewish settlements and army outposts in Gaza. One of the mortars wounded two people, a father and son, at the isolated Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom, the military said.

Israeli helicopters on Saturday fired two missiles near the car carrying prominent Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti and his bodyguards in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Saturday.