Palestinian attack leaves 7 dead

HADERA, Israel -- A Palestinian gunman walked into a banquet hall in northern Israel late Thursday and opened fire with an assault rifle, killing six people and injuring 30 during a bar mitzvah, police said. A militant group claimed responsibility for the attack, the deadliest in more than a month.

About 100 people were inside the hall celebrating a girl's coming of age. Several people beat the attacker with a chair and bottles and pushed him outside where he was shot and killed by police. Among the dead was the grandfather of the girl for whom the party was held.

"The terrorist came in the main door with an M-16 at the height of the event and started shooting everywhere," said Shimon Asraf, one of owners of David's Palace hall.

The attacker's death brought the total number of dead to seven, said police spokesman Gil Kleiman.

Moti Hasson said he was dancing when he heard the shooting.

"When I saw the Arab I ran toward him with a chair," said Hasson, a truck driver. "I threw the chair at him."

Hasson said he hit the attacker in the face with the chair while other people threw bottles at him.

"A tall man ran and screamed a few things and started shooting everywhere," said Uriel Gad who was at the ceremony.

At David's Palace, a two story building with a brown facade, workers were washing blood off the pavement a few hours after the attack.

The attacker had a grenade and a belt of ammunition which police at first announced contained explosives for a suicide attack. Their first accounts said he threw hand grenades after being overcome by police.

The Al Aqsa Brigades, a militia linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah, claimed responsibility in a phone call to The Associated Press.

It was the deadliest single attack in the region since Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat announced a cease-fire Dec. 16, after more than a year of clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.

The group said that Abed Hassouna from a village near the Palestinian town of Nablus carried out the attack to avenge the death of Raed Karmi, the militia's leader in the town of Tulkarem. Hassouna had been a Palestinian policeman but left the force two years ago, residents of his village said.

Karmi was killed in a bomb blast earlier this week that is widely believed to have been carried out by Israel. The group has vowed to avenge his death.

In Tulkarem, about a dozen Al Aqsa Brigades militants marched through the streets after the attack, shooting into the air in celebration.

The northern city of Hadera is located near the line separating Israel from the West Bank and has been the scene of several Palestinian bombings in recent months.

In a recent attack in Hadera, a Palestinian suicide bomber set off explosives strapped to his body on a bus on a main highway Nov. 29, killing himself and three Israeli passengers. The militant Islamic Jihad group later claimed responsibility for the blast.

Earlier Thursday, Israel renewed its blockade of several Palestinian towns in the West Bank after the killings of three civilians -- an American man, an Israeli woman and a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem -- by Palestinian gunmen this week. In the West Bank, a Palestinian militia leader died Thursday in an exchange of fire with Israeli troops.

Israeli soldiers killed Khamis Abdullah, 42, the head of a militia linked to Arafat's Fatah movement in the Askar refugee camp near Nablus. Palestinian officials said Abdullah was killed after he and members of his militia opened fire on Israeli tanks near Nablus, drawing return fire. Israeli security sources said Abdullah was killed by Israeli commandos.

Israel has imposed travel bans on Palestinians periodically since the start of fighting in September 2000, restrictions Israel says are needed to keep suspected militants out of the country.

Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the relatively muted response came because "we don't intend to escalate" the situation.

Gissin added, however, that "there are certain measures (taken) by the army that we do not publicize."

Near the Gaza Strip, an Israeli tank fired a shell and machine guns at three Palestinians trying to cross a security fence into Israel, the army said. One person is believed to have been hit, the army said. There was no additional information and no comment from Palestinian officials.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Thursday for the overthrow of Arafat and said a Palestinian state must never be established.

Polls indicate Netanyahu has a strong chance of returning to power and his statements were seen as a challenge to Sharon.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, a PLO faction protesting the detention of its leader threatened to attack senior Palestinian security officials if more arrests were made.

"We will get to them, regardless of how many guards they surround themselves with," the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said.

Arafat has called on the detained leader, Ahmed Saadat, to turn over the assassins of Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavam Zeevi, who was killed in October by Popular Front supporters.

Israel has demanded that the Palestinian Authority hand over the assassins, and has said it will not let Arafat leave Ramallah until those involved in Zeevi's killing are turned over.