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Palestinian Gunman Opens Fire In Jerusalem; Israeli Raid Kills 4

By Lee Hockstader

A Palestinian gunman rampaged along downtown Jerusalem’s busiest street Tuesday afternoon, spraying a crowded bus stop and pedestrians with assault rifle fire and injuring at least 15 Israelis before he was gunned down by police.

The assault occurred 12 hours after Israeli troops killed four militants from the Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas, in a pre-dawn raid in the West Bank city of Nablus on what Israel described as a major explosives lab.

Even after nearly two weeks of steadily escalating violence, signs pointed to a fresh wave of attacks and reprisals in the 16-month-old conflict, which has already cost more than 1,000 lives. In response to the raid in Nablus, Hamas said it would unleash an “all-out war” against Israel.

Israeli officials said they were alarmed that the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed group affiliated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization, is now openly sponsoring attacks inside Israel, including the shooting spree in downtown Jerusalem Tuesday and another at a girl’s coming-of-age party in northern Israel last week. In the past, Fatah gunmen had focused on shootings, ambushes and other attacks in the Israeli-occupied territories, while suicide bombings and most other acts of violence inside Israel were carried out by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other radical groups.

“The ones who have pushed Fatah to this new policy are the murderous rulers of Tel Aviv who are continuing their aggression against the Palestinian people,” said Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah chief in the West Bank whom Israel blames for a string of attacks.

Israel said its troops had pulled back Tuesday morning to the outskirts of the Palestinian town of Tulkarm, which they had fully occupied Monday. But senior Israeli officials warned their countrymen to brace for a surge of attacks and vowed to strike back in response to the assault in central Jerusalem, which left one woman in critical condition and six other people in serious to moderate condition.

Some officials openly endorsed toppling Arafat’s eight-year-old Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, even though the government has not formally decided to do so.

“We need to intensify the pressure so that at the end of the day it may bring the end of Arafat’s era,” said Danny Naveh, an Israeli Cabinet minister.

A month ago, Arafat and leading Palestinian militant organizations publicly endorsed a cease-fire, but it never fully took hold. Now Arafat speaks of becoming a “martyr” for the cause of Palestinian statehood, and the militant groups, including Hamas, have explicitly vowed to renew their attacks.

One measure of how far things have deteriorated is the public prominence of Abdel Aziz Rantissi, the fiery spokesman in the Gaza Strip for Hamas.

A month ago, under threat of arrest by Arafat’s police, Rantissi would speak to foreign correspondents only on condition that he not be identified by name, and he endorsed a Palestinian cease-fire as a tactical necessity. Tuesday he appeared on al-Jazeera, a satellite television channel based in Qatar and watched by millions of Arabs, and threatened not only Israel but also Arafat’s administration.