Fear turns accident into tragedy

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The time and place of the accident could not have been worse. Driving in French Hill, a suburb of Jerusalem, Ahmed Abdel Hamida, a Palestinian- American, went into a skid and crashed into a bus queue, killing an Israeli woman. Bystanders, fearing they were victims of another suicide attack, shot Mr Hamida dead as he got out of his car.

As his body lay on the road soldiers forced crowds back, suspecting that the crumpled black Fiat beside the bus stop contained a bomb. Only as police examined the skid marks on the wet road did they realise that what seems to have been a routine, if tragic, accident had been misinterpreted as a third attack by suicide bombers.

The incident underlined tensions in Israel on the day after 25 people were killed in two attacks in Jerusalem and the coastal city of Ashkelon. Immediately after the accident Israeli settlers, who use the bus stop to travel to the West Bank, pursued and beat some passing Palestinian youths.

Overlooked by hundreds of ultra-orthodox Jews who live in the neighbourhood, police sealed off part of north Jerusalem. A police spokesman said that Mr Hamida, who lived in California, was staying with friends in the nearby city of Ramallah, now under Palestinian control, where he had hired the Fiat Uno seven days before.

About 50 yards from the bus stop the skid marks begin as if he had accelerated to beat the lights at a nearby cross-roads and his car had then gone out of control. Many Israelis, particularly in this section of Jerusalem, carry weapons and are ready to use them. Police were last night questioning the men who opened fire.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli Prime Minister, yesterday told the Israeli parliament: "We will continue with [the peace process], but we will take all fitting means to strike at the terrorists, any place they may be."

The Islamic organisation Hamas, which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings, says the attacks were in revenge for the assassination of its chief bomb-maker, Yahyah Ayyash.

Peres at bay, page 9

Leading article, page 14