Four die as Israelis try to prevent bomb attack

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The Independent Online

A suicide bombing at a Jewish Settlement in the West Bank yesterday killed three Israelis and wounded at least 18 others.

A suicide bombing at a Jewish Settlement in the West Bank yesterday killed three Israelis and wounded at least 18 others.

In retaliation, armed Jewish settlers attacked Palestinian villagers and international volunteers harvesting olives on the West Bank.

The day's violence began when Mohammed Ishkair, a 19-year-old from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, blew himself up in the forecourt of a petrol station in Ariel, a settler town west of the main road between Ramallah and Nablus. Three reserve soldiers, at least one of them an officer, were killed.

Rami Sonnenfeld, a local police commander, said soldiers spotted the bomber as he entered the garage. "They called on him and approached him," he added. "As they were trying to overpower him, the terrorist blew up." Other witnesses said a civilian security guard shot the bomber after soldiers, returning to base from weekend leave, had subdued him. Police were investigating whether the shot caused the blast or whether Ishkair managed to detonate the explosives strapped to his body.

He was on Israel's wanted list. Security teams had been searching for him ever since he went missing from his Nablus home a month ago. Police experts estimate he was carrying between five and ten kilos of explosives. His body was still burning when firemen arrived on the scene.

It was the second Palestinian bombing in six days. Two men drove a pick-up van into a bus across the border inside Israel last Monday, killing 14. Ariel, with a population of 20,000, was the target for an earlier suicide assault last March, when 14 people were wounded in the lobby of a hotel.

Later yesterday, two elderly Americans, an Irishman and an Israeli peace campaigner were treated for injuries sustained when they were beaten with rifle butts. Extremist settlers have been harassing olive pickers almost daily for the past three weeks but this time they did not even pretend to be defending their homes against potential "terrorists."

Soon after the news of the suicide bombing broke on Israeli and Arab radio stations, nine young men from the hard-line Itamar settlement marched on a party of 15 farmers, eight foreign volunteers and three left-wing Israelis picking olives near the village of Yanoun. The volunteers stayed behind to give the locals a chance to get away.

"We went towards them," Robbie Kelly, a 33-year-old Irishman, said last night. "We said we had come in peace, that we had no weapons. One of the Israelis, Omer Allon, spoke to them in Hebrew. They called him a traitor and us terrorists.

"They started hitting us with their rifle butts, throwing rocks and punching us. They rifle-butted me in the face. I lost consciousness for a moment." Arab doctors treated Mr Kelly and two Americans, James Deleplain, 74, and Mary Hughes-Thompson, 68, for severe cuts and bruising.

Ms Hughes-Thompson said: "I am convinced they were trying to kill me.". Further north, Israeli troops shot dead two Al-Aqsa Martyrs activists driving through Nablus. An Israeli spokesman said the soldiers had told them to stop but instead they opened fire and were killed in the exchange.