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Palestinian Causes Bus Crash; 14 Israelis Die : Suspect Grabs Steering Wheel, Sends Vehicle Plunging Into a Ravine; 27 People Injured

Times Staff Writer

Fourteen Israeli bus riders were killed Thursday in a fiery crash caused by a Palestinian passenger who grabbed the steering wheel from the driver, yelled “God is great!” and sent the bus careening off a highway and down a steep ravine, witnesses and police officials said.

Twenty-seven people, including the driver, the suspect and seven U.S. citizens, were injured in what officials likened to a terrorist attack. Most of the victims were not identified. Government radio said the suspect’s father was riding on the bus and was among those injured.

It was the worst such incident since 1978, when 33 people died in a shoot-out between Israeli forces and Palestinian terrorists who raided Israel from the sea and hijacked a bus near Tel Aviv.

In Thursday’s incident, the red public bus, No. 405 on the busy Tel Aviv-Jerusalem route, left Tel Aviv at 11:15 a.m. The crash occurred half an hour later as the bus was about to pull up an incline into the Judean Hills, 9 miles from Jerusalem.

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Account by Driver

The driver, Moshe Elul, told Israel government radio that “a man came up to me, and at that moment, I thought maybe he wants some information like a lot of people ask along on the way.

“He jumped on me and shouted, ‘Allahu Akbar!’ (God is great) and pulled the wheel with all his might to the right . . . .

“I fought with him using my left leg to push forward with all my might. But he had got into a sitting position with his legs placed against the front of the bus in order to gain strength and stability, and like this we rolled down.”

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“Allahu Akbar” is a Muslim call to prayer and battle.

The suspect, described as a bearded Palestinian in his 20s, sustained moderate injuries in the chest and head and was under detention in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. He made no statement regarding the circumstances of the incident, according to police who guarded his bed in the hospital’s emergency ward.

“We know for certain that this man is the attacker,” Police Commissioner David Krauss said. “Maybe he was the one who also planned it. Inside the bus, he acted alone.”

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir vowed to “do everything to uproot these murderers and those who sent them.”

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He called the crash “an act of murder planned by a hateful, horrible mind. We are reaching here heights of hatred nurtured by unending (Palestinian) incitement.”

Foreign Minister Moshe Arens said the incident helps explain Israeli security fears.

“Every couple of weeks, we have to face tragic incidents like that, where a Palestinian terrorist causes casualties. . . brutal, fanatical, inhuman attacks on civilians, " he said. “It’s an indication of the difficulties that Israel faces in the Middle East, surrounded by Arab countries with an Arab population--very volatile, very fanatical.”

For 19 months, Palestinians have been conducting an uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Most of the hundreds of victims of the violence have been Arabs, but more than 20 Israeli Jews have also died--not counting Thursday’s victims--including some in Israel proper.

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At the scene of the bus crash, army and civilian rescuers worked until mid-afternoon to pull bodies from the blackened wreckage. The bus flipped at least once before coming to rest upside down and bursting into flames 200 feet below the heavily traveled highway.

An army helicopter ferried the dead and wounded from the ravine up to the highway, where they were picked up by larger helicopters and by ambulance and taken to hospitals in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

As the news of the crash spread around Israel, radio talk shows became passionate forums for expounding the dangers of having Arabs in the midst of Israel.

“I think there is a very easy way to avoiding these incidents,” said one caller. “We must stop minorities from getting on public transport.”

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Others asked for the death penalty to be enacted. “These incidents would not occur if they knew the punishment was death,” one radio listener said.

Late in the evening, Israel Radio reported a spate of beatings of Arabs in Jerusalem, in apparent reaction to the bus crash.

The incident marked the latest turn in a cycle of intercommunal violence provoked by the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Israel’s response to it. In recent months, lone Palestinian knife wielders have attacked and killed Israelis on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Two soldiers have been kidnaped this year while hitchhiking; one was found shot in the head, and the other is still missing.

In May, the underground leadership of the uprising called on Palestinians to take revenge on Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza for the deaths of Arabs.

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Settlers, taking hikes to assert their rights in the West Bank, have shot and killed two Arabs in recent weeks. The toll on Palestinians in the uprising is mounting steadily; more than 500 have died at the hands of soldiers.

The attack on the bus prompted the Labor Party to postpone a meeting it had scheduled to reconsider continued participation in the coalition government with Shamir’s Likud. Some Labor officials had objected to changes made by the prime minister this week to Israel’s proposal for elections in the West Bank and Gaza and have threatened to leave the partnership.


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