Image: Palestinian shot and killed
Sebastian Scheiner  /  AP
Israeli police on Tuesday shot and killed a Palestinian who allegedly tried to run them over with his car.
updated 4/7/2009 4:25:13 PM ET 2009-04-07T20:25:13

Israeli police on Tuesday shot and killed a Palestinian who allegedly tried to run them over with his car as tractors nearby demolished a militant's home — sparking clashes between angry Arabs and heavily armed riot troops.

It was the latest in a string of attacks by Palestinian drivers on Israeli targets in Jerusalem, feeding tensions between Jews and Arabs in the disputed city. The issue of sharing Jerusalem, with its holy sites, has stymied Israeli-Palestinian peace talks for years.

Reversing the policy of previous governments, Israel's new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, opposes giving any of the city to the Palestinians, who demand the Arab section as the capital of their future state.

The destroyed apartment belonged to a Hussam Dwayat, 30, who killed three Israelis during a rampage with his heavy-construction vehicle last July. He was shot dead at the scene.

'Demolitions, evictions aren't helpful'
In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood criticized Israel's action. "Demolitions, evictions aren't helpful," he said, calling on both Israel and the Palestinians to avoid "taking steps (that are) divisive and that are going to increase tensions in the region."

Israel resumed destroying houses of Palestinian attackers several months ago, hoping to deter other potential attackers. But Tuesday's demolition of the top floor of a two-story building triggered its own violence.

Police and witnesses said a Palestinian car roared toward police at high speed, hitting three of them as they dived for safety. They were not seriously hurt. Police shot and killed the driver.

Afterward, his body was laid out on the street under a white plastic sheet next to his car, its windshield shattered by about 20 bullet holes.

Then dozens of Arab protesters threw rocks and bottles at Israeli police, who responded with stun grenades. No one was hurt.

A previously unknown group calling itself the "Free Jerusalem Brigades" claimed responsibility for the vehicle attack.

Vehicle as weapon
Many Palestinians work on Jerusalem construction sites, and in the past year, three have used their heavy vehicles to target Israelis.

Dwayat was the first. He went on a deadly rampage on July 2, plucking cars off the street, swinging them in the air and smashing them to the ground with passengers trapped inside. He killed three people and wounded more than 45 before an off-duty soldier shot him dead.

During the demolition of Dwayat's house, police set up a roadblock about half a mile away to secure the area, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

At the time of the vehicle attack and shooting, the demolition was still under way. Tractors wrecked the top floor of a two-story home where 21 members of Dwayat's family lived including his wife, three children, father and 90-year-old grandmother, relatives said. They left the neighbor's residence downstairs intact.

"This is not a punishment for one person," said Zuhair Hamdan, a resident. "This is a punishment for everyone who says he's an Arab in Jerusalem."

Danny Seidemann, a lawyer for the Israeli advocacy group Ir Amim, which works for coexistence in Jerusalem, said home demolitions do not deter violence.

"The perpetrators are dead, so they are demolishing homes of innocent people," he said. "If we treat the Arab population of east Jerusalem as hostile, we will be seeing more rather than less of these attacks."

Demolition destruction
About two-thirds of Jerusalem's 700,000 residents are Jews, and the rest are Palestinians. In contrast to West Bank Palestinians, Arab residents of Jerusalem have full freedom to work and travel throughout Israel.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and immediately annexed it. But the annexation was not internationally recognized. East Jerusalem includes the walled Old City, home to key Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites.

Since 2004, Israel has leveled more than 300 homes in Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods, citing a lack of building permits. However, critics say the permits are virtually impossible to obtain and consider the demolitions part of a decades-old policy to limit Palestinian population growth in the disputed city.

Before his rampage, Dwayat had been fined $50,000 for building his house without a permit, and a demolition order was on file, which could have motivated his attack.

Also Tuesday, Israel transferred $12 million in cash to Gaza, according to Mideast mediator Tony Blair. Such transfers are routine as part of banking relations, but this was the first one since Netanyahu took office, pledging a hard line against Gaza's Hamas rulers. "This is a welcome first step," Blair said in a statement, but added that Gaza needs much more cash.

Israeli officials had no comment.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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