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Student tells of attack on the Red Sea road

Boyfriend shot dead after couple hitch lift to kibbutz
A British student who saw her boyfriend shot dead and was injured herself by a man who gave them a lift as they travelled in Israel described the attack to The Independent last night.

Charlotte Gibb, 20, from a village near Peterborough, told how the attacker shot and killed Max Hunter, a 22-year-old law student from Banstead, Surrey, on the desert road north from the Red Sea resort of Eilat before dawn yesterday.

Ms Gibb, who was at Durham University with Mr Hunter, was out of danger in a Beersheba hospital, where she was recovering from surgery for fractures to an arm. She had shot gun injuries to her face and hands.

Her voice faltered, close to tears. Her speech was slurred, as if she were feeling the effect of the pain-killing drugs doctors administered after she came out of the operating theatre. She still referred to her boyfriend in the present tense, though she knew he was dead.

"Max had arranged for us to go to a kibbutz near Tiberias," she said. "We were hitching a lift from Eilat. A man who looked about forty or fifty picked us up. I was in the back seat with our bags. Max, who speaks Hebrew, sat in the front talking to the driver. I fell asleep.

"The next thing I knew, Max was shaking my leg, saying, `Are you awake?' We had stopped somewhere in the desert. The car lights were off, and it was pitch dark. The moon was hidden. The driver had got out and was looking for something. He asked us to put our bags in the boot, which we did.

"The driver lit a cigarette. We thought we'd have one too. Suddenly I saw yellow flashes. I thought this can't really be happening. He shot Max, then before I could try to get away he shot me.

"I lay behind the car, pretending to be dead. He shot Max again, then came back and shot me again. Then he drove off. I thought this is it. I'm going to die. I was losing blood. I was half unconscious, but managed to drag myself to the road. I shouted for my boyfriend, but I knew he was dead. After about half an hour, a van of Israeli soldiers rescued me."

The soldiers raised the alarm and a military helicopter evacuated Ms Gibb to Seroka hospital, where she arrived about 4.15am. The killer's motive was as puzzling to Ms Gibb as it was to the police.

Although she could not follow the Hebrew, and the driver did not understand when she asked him a question in English, he and her boyfriend did not raise their voices and did not seem to be arguing. In retrospect, however, she felt that he intended all along to shoot them. "Why else," she asked, "did he make an excuse to get us out of the car?"

Hundreds of police were combing southern Israel last night, hunting for the killer. The police were treating the case as criminal, rather than political. According to an unconfirmed Israel Radio report, the assailant was thought to be an Israeli Arab (Ms Gibb could not tell whether he was a Jew or an Arab). Detectives were checking whether he had fled across the border to Egypt.