Hebrew clue to serial murders

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A POOL of drying blood on the pavement marks where Osama Musa Abu Aisha Natshe bled to death yesterday morning after he was repeatedly stabbed by a masked man police say may be a Jewish serial killer. It is the seventh knife attack on a lone Palestinian walking to work since the end of last year.

"A masked man suddenly jumped out from behind a bus and started stabbing him with a knife," said Abdel Raouf Natshe, the dead man's cousin.

"He started back towards home and shouted for his brothers. They came up, saw him soaked in blood, and called an ambulance." A knife with the Hebrew word for revenge written on it was reportedly found near the body.

The attacks, all involving the use of a knife, started in late 1997 in Mea Shearim, the ultra- Orthodox district in the centre of Jerusalem.

In May a 52-year-old Palestinian construction worker was the first of those attacked to die after he was stabbed as he walked to work from a Palestinian neighbourhood in east Jerusalem down a street which borders Mea Shearim. Yair Yizhaki, the Jerusalem police commander, said his men were investigating links between yesterday's killing and previous attacks.

Mr Natshe, 41, died in much the same way as the last victim. His neighbours say he worked as a road cleaner for Jerusalem municipality and had six children.

His house is below the level of the main road, which cuts across the side of a steep hill in the Abu Tor district,which is divided between Palestinians and Israelis.

In the early dawn Mr Natshe climbed up the steps from his house on his way to work. He was stabbed almost as soon as he reached street level.

Yesterday afternoon, as his funeral was taking place in al-Aqsa mosque, his family built a makeshift shrine to him out of cement blocks, covering the blood stains with boughs from a pine tree growing near by.

A bloody towel and a tablecloth, with which somebody had tried to prevent Mr Natshe bleeding to death, hung on the railings beside the road.

Idris Hassan, a neighbour of the murdered man, said: "There has been little trouble in Abu Tor since the intifada [Palestinian uprising], but the line dividing the city, before the Israelis captured the whole of it in 1967, ran down the centre of the street where Natshe was murdered."

The murder has raised the political temperature in Jerusalem, where it has been rising in recent days because of Palestinian disappointment that Israel has not released more Palestinian prisoners.

At the end of Mr Natshe's funeral yesterday afternoon there was rioting in Salah al-Din street, during which Israeli police fired rubber bullets and tear-gas. At the top of the street a lorry which rioters believed was owned by an Israeli company was set ablaze.

There were also riots yesterday north of Jerusalem, near the Palestinian enclave of Ramallah.

The clash began when 150 students from Bir Zeit university belonging to Fatah, the organisation of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Authority president, staged a march to demand the release of the 2,250 Palestinians held by Israel.

At one point they attacked a car with Israeli plates driven by a man wearing a skullcap and with a soldier sitting in the passenger seat.

They hurled stones at the car, smashing its windows and hitting the driver in the face. They then seized the M-16 rifle of the soldier and hit him over the head with stones until he ran away, bleeding. Eleven of the rioters were injured by rubber bullets fired later by Israeli soldiers.

Palestinians are incensed by the release of only 150 prisoners, most of whom are petty criminals, under the terms of the Wye accord now being implemented.

Ahmed Tibi, an adviser to Mr Arafat, says 1,250 prisoners belong to the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which is recognised by Israel as representing the Palestinians, and 1,000 to Islamic organisations.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, says that he will not release prisoners who "have blood on their hands".

Bassam Eid, head of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, says only 300 of the Palestinian prisoners were convicted of killing Israelis or collaborators.