By Rami Amichai
HAIFA, Israel (Reuters) - An Israeli court convicted seven Arab citizens on Monday in connection with the mob killing in 2005 of a Jewish gunman after he went on a lethal shooting rampage on a bus in their town.
While none of the men was found guilty of directly causing the death of Eden Nathan-Zaada, a 19-year-old army deserter and far-right West Bank settler, some members of Israel's Arab minority deplored the verdict as a sign of discrimination.
Wearing a military uniform and Jewish skullcap, Nathan-Zaada opened fire aboard a bus in the northern town of Shfaram, killing four Arabs. Twenty-two people, all but seven of them Arabs, were wounded.
Enraged residents of the largely Arab populated town killed Nathan-Zaada at the scene, as police tried to intervene. Security officials said later the gunman had apparently hoped to trigger sectarian violence to try and derail Israel's Gaza Strip withdrawal, which went ahead weeks later.
Haifa District Court convicted four Shfaram men of attempted manslaughter, two others of serious aggravated assault and a seventh of assault and obstruction of a police officer.
Defense lawyer Siry Khourieh said "the indictments in my opinion should have never been presented," having argued in court the men had acted in self-defense, and that Israeli Jews were seldom prosecuted for killing assailants at the scene of an incident.
The court found for the prosecution, that the soldier had already been subdued, disarmed and handcuffed by police after his shooting spree, when a mob set upon him, stomping on and stoning him to death.
Kamal Shehadin, deputy mayor of Shfaram, among a few dozen protesters outside the court, said his constituents "feel discriminated against."
"Four people were murdered in cold blood and the court comes to judge these men, who if they hadn't defended themselves, more blood could have been spilled," Shehadin said.
The six defendants convicted of the worst offences face a maximum penalties of 14 years' imprisonment. Their attorney, Khourieh, said he expected far lighter sentences at a hearing scheduled for November.
"We have no end of mitigating circumstances here," Khourieh told Reuters.
Israeli Arabs make up about a fifth of Israel's mostly Jewish population. Many are descended from Palestinians who fled or were driven away in a war over Israel's founding in 1948.
(Writing by Dan Williams and Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Sonya Hepinstall)
(This story was refiled to correct to seven in the headline and the lead paragraph)