Eritrean mistaken for gunman killed in Israeli bus station attack

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 19, 2015 5:32 AM

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Eritrean migrant, shot by a security guard and kicked by an angry Israeli crowd that mistook him for a gunman, was identified on Monday as one of the dead from an attack on a bus station in the southern city of Beersheba.

The Eritrean agricultural worker was named by his employer as Mila Abtum. In what some Israeli media described as a lynching, captured on amateur video on Sunday, the attack on Abtum underscored a mounting sense of panic and anger over a wave of Palestinian attacks that shows no sign of abating.

The violence over the past two weeks has killed 41 Palestinians, including assailants and demonstrators at anti-Israeli protests, eight Israelis and now one Eritrean. It was set off in part by Palestinians' anger over what they see as increased Jewish encroachment on Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque complex.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, due to hold separate meetings this week with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, said on Monday it was vital they clarify the status around the compound, also revered by Jews as the location of two destroyed biblical temples.

"I don't have specific expectations except to try to move things forward, and that will depend on the conversations themselves," Kerry told reporters in Madrid.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he seeks no change to the decades-old status quo in which Israel bans Jewish prayer at the al-Aqsa site in the walled Old City of East Jerusalem, captured along with the West Bank in a 1967 war.

HEAVY SECURITY

In a bid to stem the most serious Palestinian attacks on its streets since an uprising a decade ago, Israel has poured hundreds of troops into its cities and set up roadblocks in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

But in Beersheba, an attacker who police said was a Bedouin citizen of Israel entered the heavily guarded station armed with a pistol on Sunday and shot dead a soldier before snatching his rifle and opening fire on the crowd, wounding nine people.

Police shot the assailant dead, and initially reported there had been a second gunman. On Monday, they said there had been no other attacker and an investigation had been opened into the migrant's death.

Amateur video showed a security guard shooting the Eritrean. Lying on the ground bleeding, and with armed paramilitary police surrounding him in an apparent effort to protect him, he was kicked in the head several times by people who slipped through the loose cordon.

Nitza Neuman-Heiman, Deputy Director General of Soroka Medical Center, told Army Radio the Eritrean died of gunshot wounds and the injuries he sustained from the kicks.

Sagi Malachi, his employer, described Abtum as a quiet, modest man who had traveled to Beersheba to renew his visa.

"The country is in a state of chaos. Civilians are confused, people are taking the law into their own hands," Malachi said on the radio.

Israeli police erected a 10-metre (33-ft)-long concrete barrier on Sunday on a street that borders the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Jabel Mukabar, and an adjacent Jewish neighborhood.

Police called it a temporary precaution to prevent rocks and petrol bombs from being thrown at the Jewish dwellings. But it caused outrage at a meeting of Netanyahu's security cabinet on Sunday, political officials said, because it was seen as essentially dividing Jerusalem.

Netanyahu, one official said, ordered police not to extend the barrier.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem, including the eastern part that it annexed after the 1967 conflict, as its "indivisible and eternal capital", a status that has not won international recognition. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they seek to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Janet Lawrence)