Israelis mourn after gun attack on bat mitzvah

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The Independent Online

Maria Matayev stood in the Mediterranean sun, determined that her unstoppable tears should not interrupt the story that she felt she must tell, pressing on even as her two friends were lowered into freshly dug graves in the Jewish cemetery a few yards away.

Maria Matayev stood in the Mediterranean sun, determined that her unstoppable tears should not interrupt the story that she felt she must tell, pressing on even as her two friends were lowered into freshly dug graves in the Jewish cemetery a few yards away.

"There was so much blood," she said, still unable fully to comprehend what she had witnessed. "At first we didn't understand what was happening because the music in the hall was too loud. But then I saw the gunman. He was shooting at us."

Around her stood scores of other similar men and women – small, tough, weathered- looking Russian Jews who left the violent turmoil of the Caucasus after the collapse of the Soviet empire to migrate to Israel, only to find another war.

Hours earlier, it had come crashing into their lives in the form of the small, stocky, and heavily armed Abed Hassouna, a Palestinian guerrilla from the al-Aqsa Brigades bent on avenging the assassination this week by Israel of one of his leaders, Raed Karmi.

Just before 11pm on Thursday, Hassouna broke into a banqueting hall at the height of a young girl's bat mitzvah coming of age celebration and opened fire with an M-16, killing six before being clubbed to death by guests wielding bottles and chairs and then shot.

The family of the girl, 12-year-old Nina Kardashova – who was being comforted by relatives yesterday – were immigrants from Dagestan, in southern Russian. So were many of the guests and the victims. Israel's Russians have been hard hit by the 16-month conflict. Last year 21 young immigrants were massacred by a suicide bomber in a Tel Aviv disco. Now the community is mourning again.

A crowd of several hundred, including Mrs Matayev, gathered yesterday to bury Eduard Bakshayev, 48, the girl's step-grandfather, and his cousin Anatoli Bakshayev, 63, in the Israeli coastal town of Or Akiva, four miles north of Hadera, scene of the attack.

As they did so, Israel moved its tanks to within only 30 yards of Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah, and an Israeli government spokesman said that the Palestinian leader – who has been trapped in the West Bank for six weeks – was now only free to move around his compound "or its immediate vicinity".

Dozens of Palestinians in Tulkarm were being treated for shrapnel wounds after at least seven missiles fired from Israeli F-16 warplanes flattened a security building, killing one man. Another Palestinian lay dead elsewhere in the West Bank, shot by the Israeli army.

None of this will mollify those in mourning yesterday, any more than the other measures taken by Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister, over the past year – from the long military closure of the occupied territories to the destruction of homes and orchards, helicopter strikes and repeated assassinations. They wailed. They prayed. And they raged against their government. "There is only one solution for this – and that is to get rid of the Arabs entirely," said Edik Begim, 45, a tailor. "They should be transferred to live in another place. We cannot live with them."

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