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At Least 4 Israelis Killed in Palestinian Attack on Voting Station - 2002-11-28

Palestinian gunmen Thursday shot dead at least four Israelis in a town in northern Israel, and injured more than 20 others.

The Palestinian gunmen attacked a bus station and a nearby Likud Party voting station in the town of Beit Shean, in northern Israel.

Two of the attackers, one said to be wearing an explosives belt, were killed by Israeli security forces.

The wounded have been evacuated to nearby hospitals, and police have sealed off the area, amid reports that a third gunman may have gone into hiding.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Reports said the gunmen opened fire and threw grenades at passengers at the bus station, as well as at people crowding into the Likud offices, where primary elections are underway to decide the party leadership.

The contest is between the sitting prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and his foreign minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Rafi Ben-Sheetrit, the chairman of the Likud branch in Beit Shean, said he and others were standing at the entrance of the party office when the attack occurred.

He said he heard two loud blasts, and then a massive burst of gunfire.

Mr. Ben-Sheetrit said he saw one of the attackers, "smiling cynically as he kept on firing, and firing, as the people were fleeing." It was, he said, a scene of total hysteria.

The mayor of Beit Shean, Pini Kabalo, says the shooting began at the main bus station, and then quickly moved to the Likud branch, some 50 meters away.

The attack came as Israelis were still reeling from news that their countrymen had been targeted in two separate terrorist attacks in Kenya.