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Palestinian Attack Kills 12 Israelis, Wounds 15 Others - 2002-11-16

At least 12 Israelis were killed and 15 wounded Friday evening when Palestinian gunmen attacked a group of Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers escorting them home from prayers in the West Bank city of Hebron.

The Israeli army described the attack as a well planned ambush. They said gunmen fired automatic rifles and threw hand grenades at the settlers and the soldiers escorting them home from prayers at the Tomb of the Patriarch, a site sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

The militants opened fire from atop a hill in a Palestinian-controlled section of the city. The victims were in an Israeli-controlled section. The attackers then fired on Israeli troops responding to the shooting, killing a number of them including the local brigade commander, the highest ranking Israel Defense Forces official in the area.

Israeli troops killed three Palestinians they say carried out the attack. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility and said the attack was in response to Israel's killing of one of its military leaders a week ago.

The man, Iyad Sawalcha, was accused by Israel of being behind attacks that had killed dozens of Israelis. The Israeli military says it shot and killed him after he opened fire on them while they were attempting to arrest him.

Islamic Jihad gunmen in Gaza handed out sweets to youngsters and fired in the air to celebrate the Hebron attack.

Hebron was divided under a 1997 agreement. Some 450 Jewish settlers live there surrounded by 130,000 Palestinians. Israeli troops pulled out of the city just a month ago saying it was an effort to improve conditions for Palestinians inside the city.

In the pre-dawn hours Saturday, Israeli helicopter gun ships fired at least four missiles at a workshop in central Gaza city, reducing it to rubble. The Israeli military said the workshop was used to build mortar shells and rockets for use in attacks on Israel.