Four Israeli Arabs killed in an attack by a Jewish soldier opposed to the upcoming pullout from the Gaza Strip have been buried. Fearing a violent response, Israeli police were out in force.
Mournful prayers were chanted at a mosque in the Arab town of Shfaram in northern Israel, as thousands of people attended the funerals of the four victims of the bus attack. Two of the Arab victims were Muslim and two were Christian.
"The entire Israeli Arab community is in deep mourning," Rafik Abu Shach, a local resident, told Israel Radio. "A terrorist carried out this senseless killing of good people," he added.
Among the victims was the bus driver, Michael Michel Bakkus.
"He believed in co-existence," said the driver's brother Farid. "He had a lot of friends, both Arabs and Jews."
Arab citizens of Israel make up about 20 percent of the population. They support their Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but few have been involved in violence.
The attacker, Eden Natan-Zada, 19, was an Orthodox Jew who deserted his army unit a few weeks ago because he refused to take part in the upcoming evacuation of more than 8,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza. He was staying at the radical West Bank settlement of Tapuach, where residents oppose relinquishing any part of the Biblical Land of Israel. He was beaten to death by an angry Arab mob following the attack.
Officials say the aim of the attack was to spark riots among Israeli Arabs and Palestinians that would derail the Gaza pullout.
Thousands of police fanned out near Arab towns in northern Israel and at the Mosque of Al Aksa on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, but fears of violence did not materialize.