JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A Palestinian construction worker rammed a bulldozer into buses and cars on one of west Jerusalem’s busiest streets on Wednesday, killing three Israelis and wounding more than 40 before he was shot dead.
Israeli police said the driver of the 20-tonne earthmoving vehicle was killed by a civilian and a policeman who clambered onto the cab as it wrought havoc along Jaffa Road, overturning a city bus and crushing cars along a 500-metre stretch.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility from militant groups. Relatives and police named the attacker as 30-year-old Hosam Dwayyat, a construction worker from Arab East Jerusalem. Police were trying to establish whether he had acted alone.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the attack “was an act of senseless, murderous violence”. An aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called it an attempt to wreck peace negotiations and urged Israel to show restraint in its response.
Abbas’s opponents in Hamas and Islamic Jihad said the attack was a “natural” response by Palestinians to Israeli aggression but, nearly two weeks into a truce in the Gaza Strip, neither Islamist group said it was responsible for the incident.
U.S. President George W. Bush called Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to offer condolences, Israeli spokesman Regev said.
Television footage showed bystanders pursuing the yellow roadworking vehicle as it ploughed through the early lunchtime traffic. Men in civilian clothes had climbed aboard and one fired a pistol into the cab as others wrestled inside.
After the struggle, a helmeted policeman in body armor fired his assault rifle into the slumped figure in the cab. The officer later told reporters that he had fired twice, fearing the wounded man still posed a danger to the public.
“A bulldozer driven by an Arab went on a rampage on Jaffa Road, hitting pedestrians, buses and cars,” police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.
Witness Moshe Oren said at the scene: “The only way to stop him was with a bullet to the head. We saw a civilian climb onto the bulldozer and shoot the man. We were relieved.”
Medical officials said more than 40 people were taken to hospital. Two Israeli men and a women died.
It was the first Arab attack in Jewish west Jerusalem since a gunman killed eight students on March 6 at a Jewish religious school a short distance from Jaffa Road.
Among the vehicles damaged was a van with its entire front crushed and a No. 13 commuter bus, flipped on its side and gashed by the shovel of the bulldozer. Blood smeared the bus’s shattered windscreen and trailed along the street.
To one side, the road has been dug up as part of a project to build a light railway through the city.
The scene in the aftermath of the incident was reminiscent of numerous suicide bombings that destroyed buses on Jaffa Road during a wave of attacks in 1996 and during the first years of a Palestinian uprising that began in 2000.
Since then, fatal attacks on Israelis have become relatively rare, despite frequent rocket and mortar fire from Gaza. Israeli forces have killed more than 360 Palestinians this year, mostly in Gaza. More than 100 of the Palestinian dead were civilians.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in Gaza his group did not expect the attack to “influence the Gaza calm”.
“There is a continued aggression against our people in the West Bank and Jerusalem and so it is natural that our people there will respond to such aggression,” he said.
Hamas’s allies, Islamic Jihad, said in a statement: “The Jerusalem Brigades bless the heroic operation in Jerusalem as the natural reaction to the crimes of the occupation.”
Unlike Palestinians in the blockaded Gaza Strip and in the occupied West Bank, those living in occupied East Jerusalem have free access to the Jewish west of the city and to Israel.
Arab and Jewish populations do not mix extensively, but thousands of Palestinians work on Israel’s roads and building sites. The gunman who attacked the seminary in March was from East Jerusalem. That attack was claimed by Hamas officials.
At Gaza’s border crossing with Egypt, Egyptian forces used water cannon and Hamas security forces had to restrain a crowd jostling for access during a brief opening of the Rafah crossing point between the Palestinian enclave and its Arab neighbor.
Some Palestinians threw stones at Egyptian forces and also complained of Hamas’s failure to speed their passage to Egypt, the only access to the outside world for most Gazans, who are blocked from other land, sea and air routes by Israel.