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Palestinian shot dead after tractor rampage

Image : Israelis run past a construction vehicle
Israelis run past a construction vehicle as the Palestinian driver sits dead in his seat at the scene of an attack in Jerusalem on Tuesday.Kevin Frayer / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Palestinian man from east Jerusalem rammed a construction vehicle into three cars and a city bus in downtown Jerusalem on Tuesday, wounding four people before he was shot dead, in a chilling imitation of another attack in the city earlier this month.

The driver went on his rampage in a busy part of downtown Jerusalem, several hundred yards from the luxury hotel where U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama is to stay Tuesday night as he kicks off a visit to Israel.

Police said a civilian driving nearby saw what was happening, jumped out of his car and shot the driver. A border policeman who rushed to the scene also shot the driver. Police sealed off possible escape routes into predominantly Arab east Jerusalem and were searching for two suspects who fled the scene, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

The rampage turned the area into a scene of panic and chaos before the driver was killed, minutes after he launched his attack.

The driver of the bus said he was chased by the assailant, who raised the shovel of his front-end loader.

"I was driving on the main road when the (construction vehicle) hit me in the rear, on the right hand side," driver Avi Levi said.

"After I passed him he turned round, made a U-turn and rammed the windows twice with the shovel. The third time he aimed for my head, he came up to my window and I swerved to the right, otherwise I would have gone to meet my maker," Levi said.

'He just kept ramming'
Witness Moshe Shimshi said the driver of the construction vehicle, who was wearing a large, white skullcap commonly worn by religious Muslims, slammed into the side of the bus, then sped away and went for a car.

"He didn't yell anything, he just kept ramming into cars," Shimshi said.

The driver then headed for cars waiting at a red light "and rammed into them with all his might," he added.

Shimshi said he stopped his motorcycle and ran toward the construction vehicle when he saw another man running at it from another direction.

The man, a civilian, began firing a pistol "two or three meters from the bulldozer, which was moving back and forth ramming into the cars the whole time," Shimshi added. "After a few shots, I saw the driver shake and fall, and then he didn't move any more."

Jerusalem police chief Ilan Franco said a border police officer then arrived and shot at the driver "to make sure he was killed." In the attack earlier this month, the driver of the construction vehicle was shot and presumed dead — only to revive and carry on with his attack before being shot dead.

Channel 10 TV said a mother and her baby were wounded in the assault. Israeli rescue services said they had evacuated one person whose leg was partially severed; Israel media said he was in the car that was overturned.

"This was another attempt to murder innocent people in a senseless act of terrorism," said government spokesman Mark Regev. "All people who believe in peace and reconciliation must unequivocally condemn this attack. Unfortunately, it is clear that we as a society will have to remain vigilant against terrorism."

Minutes after the attack, the driver, wearing shorts and black shoes, was sprawled backward in the construction vehicle's cabin, his legs dangling lifelessly. At least 20 bullet hotels pierced the front-end loader.

Fire trucks massed at the scene, where the smell of gas — possibly from a punctured gas tank — wafted. Sirens wailed in the background, and a police helicopter hovered overhead.

Inventing ways for attack
The assault was eerily reminiscent of an attack earlier this month, when another Palestinian from east Jerusalem plowed his front-end loader into a string of vehicles and pedestrians on another busy Jerusalem street about 3 miles away. Three people were killed in that attack and dozens of others were wounded before an off-duty soldier shot the assailant dead.

Tuesday's attack was carried out with the same type of front-end loader. A four-door sedan next to the vehicle had been struck from the rear and crashed into a utility vehicle.

A compact car stood nearby, its driver's side smashed, and its hood and engine destroyed. Another four-door sedan was overturned on the sidewalk.

Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski was in the area when he heard a commotion and rushed over to the scene.

The attacker "is from east Jerusalem," he said. "They keep on inventing ways to attack us," he said. "Every work tool has become a weapon."

The three latest attacks in Jerusalem have been carried out by Palestinians from the city's eastern sector.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in 1967, along with the West Bank, and annexed it. The 208,000 Palestinians who live there make up less than a third of the city's population. They are not Israeli citizens but carry Israeli ID cards that allow them freedom of movement throughout Israel, unlike West Bank Palestinians. Many east Jerusalem Palestinians work in construction in the Jewish parts of the city.