Pope's pilgrimage is stained by the latest Arab death

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The Independent Online

Pope John Paul II flew into Israel yesterday preaching peace and reconciliation for those who have spilt blood over this war-weary land. It is a message that Halmieh Allul will not hear.

The pontiff, his entourage of braided Vatican prelates, and his carefully crafted message of peace and goodwill, arrived 16 hours too late for Mrs Allul, and too late also for her 12 children, the youngest of whom is two years old. For when his Royal Jordanian aircraft touched down at Ben Gurion airport n Tel Aviv, to be met by a group of the highest officials, led by Prime Minister Ehud Barak, another reception committee had already assembled, in Nuba, a small, town 50 miles away, tucked into the hills of the West Bank.

The men, sitting bleakly in a circle, had gathered to pay their respects to Mrs Allul, 45, who was shot dead late on Monday night by Israeli soldiersas she and her husband were driving home along a country lane.Mrs Allul's relatives say that she was travelling home with her husband to her village, Jabaa, after visiting their daughter in Nuba.

Earlier that evening, three Israelis had been injured after being shot at near Hebron. As Mr and Mrs Allul drove through an isolated stretch of road, they encountered two temporary Israeli road blocks.

It was - villagers say - just after 11pm.

They passed through one. At the second, Mrs Allul's brains were blasted across the ceiling of their car by a volley of bullets. Her badly injured husband, Mahmoud, 50, drove for two miles, with his dead wife at his side, to get help. Yesterday he was in hospital.

The Israeli military said in a statement that the soldiers opened fire after the vehicle's driver tried to run over one of the soldiers at the checkpoint. The army was investigating the incident, they said.

A Palestinian security official said it appeared that the soldiers opened fire on the Palestinian car to avenge the Hebron shooting. Who knows. But the condition of the couple's shot-up car, a battered white Lancia A112 with yellow Israeli plates, shows that the vehicle was mostly hit from behind.

The dead woman's brother, Yusef Allul, took us to view it, keen that foreign journalists should see the evidence that his sister died after being shot in the back.

Twelve hours after the killing, it was parked in a weed-choked vacant lot in Nuba and children were clambering all over it. We found only two bullet holes in the front and at least a dozen in the rear. The back window was entirely smashed, opening the worn-looking interior, with its pools of blood and the ghastly detritus of a head wound, to the spring breeze. The front window was intact.

Mrs Allul's brother Yusef, 47, is a man of quiet, angry dignity. He is, he explains, an educated man with a master's degree in economic science, a West Bank Palestinian condemned by ill luck and politics to work as a labourer inside Israel.

He knows the Pope is in the Holy Land and that the pontiff is due to visit Palestinian-controlled turf, meeting Yasser Arafat in Bethlehem, less than 30 miles from here. But he says this means "nothing" to him. It is an awkward question to ask - hackneyed but at the same time hard to avoid - but he answered it without hesitation or embarrassment: what would he say to the Pope, if he had the chance to meet him in the next few days? He does not talk of peace, of reconciliation,or forgiveness. He uses none of the buzzwords of the Vatican's publicity machine.

"The Pope is a good man", he said, raising his voice slightly against the racket of an Israeli military helicopter overhead. "But this is not peace. This is shit. A piece of paper has more value than this peace.

"What can you teach people, if they won't listen? So I would tell him to take me out of this place. Because we are suffering. We are suffering from childhood to death."

One of Mrs Allul's cousins - a teacher called Maalik - did have a message for His Holiness. His voice plump with sarcasm, he called her death a "good message". A "good message to the Baba" - as the Arabs call the Holy Father - "a good message to Bethlehem and all the world".