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Palestinian American Shot Dead By Angry Israelis After Accident

By Barton Gellman
The Washington Post
JERUSALEM

It is not certain, and may never be, why Ahmed Hamideh drove his car Monday into a crowd of people at a bus stop on Jerusalem's northern edge, killing one person and injuring 22.

Long skid marks at the scene suggest that the 36-year-old Hamideh, an American of Palestinian origin, had tried to brake, and police investigators now say they think he somehow lost control of his rented car. Two armed bystanders, seeing bodies on the street and a man who appeared to be an Arab leaving the car, believed otherwise. They shot him dead on the spot.

So jittery are Israeli nerves a day after Palestinian extremists set off bombs on a Jerusalem bus and amid a crowd of hitchhiking soldiers in Ashqelon that hundreds of policemen converged on the bus stop and brought afternoon rush-hour traffic to a halt. Police munitions experts, presuming another terrorist strike, searched Hamideh's small Fiat for explosives. They found groceries meant for his nephews in the West Bank.

As the nation buried the bombing victims Monday - the toll having risen to 27 overnight - a palpable sense of anxiety prevailed here. Had Hamideh done what he did on another day, said Hebrew University law professor Mordechai Kremnitzer, he probably would have lived to explain what happened. Today, Kremnitzer said, "people are afraid."

The location of the incident seemed significant. Buses and bus stops have become Israel's front lines and passengers unwilling combatants. And although practically every Israeli can recite the list of bus bombings over the past two years - Afula, Hadera, Tel Aviv, Beit Lid, Ramat Gan, Jerusalem - there are 1.5 million people who ride buses every day because they have no choice.

Sunday's suicide bombing attacks gave new emotional leverage to opponents of Israel's peace compact with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and raised new doubts among supporters as well. Commentator Shalom Yerushalmi, a well-known advocate of the peace process, wrote in the newspaper Maariv Monday that "Israel should shake off its commitments" to the accord "until Arafat goes on an uncompromising war against terror."

As always after a national calamity, Monday's funerals were covered live on Israeli radio, and the evening television news dwelt on the mourners at length.