World

Israel mulls demolition of Jerusalem attacker's home

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reiterated his call on Thursday for the bulldozing of the East Jerusalem home of the man who went on a deadly rampage in a front-end loader.

Vice-premier: Treat East Jerusalem neighbourhoods as Palestinian villages

Israeli police on Thursday guard the house of Husam Taysir Dwayat, who killed three people in a front-end loader attack in Jerusalem on Monday. ((Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press))

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reiterated his call on Thursday for the bulldozing of the East Jerusalem home of the man who went on a deadly rampage in a front-end loader.

Olmert and Defence Minister Ehud Barak said the government wants to send a strong message to anyone considering similar attacks. Defence and legal experts were meeting Thursday to discuss the issue.

"I think we need to be tougher in some of the means we use against perpetrators of terror," Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted Olmert as saying Thursday at a conference in Eilat. 

"If we have to destroy houses, then we must do so, and if we have to stop their social benefits, then we must do so."

The attacker, identified as construction worker Husam Taysir Dwayat, drove a front-end loader onto a crowded street in downtown Jerusalem on Wednesday, plowing into cars and buses. Three people were killed and dozens injured before a police officer and an off-duty soldier climbed onto the loader and shot Dwayat, killing him.

The rampage, coupled with a deadly shooting at a Jerusalem religious school in March, have renewed debate over the status of Palestinian residents of largely Arab East Jerusalem. Both attackers were Palestinians living and moving freely within the city's confines. 

Arab residents of East Jerusalem, like other Arab Israelis, have full freedom to work and travel throughout Israel. They have the same blue identity cards issued to all Israeli citizens.

On Thursday, Israeli Vice-Premier Haim Ramon proposed a change in the route of Israel's controversial separation barrier to improve security. Ramon called on Israel to treat two East Jerusalem neighbourhoods as Palestinian villages and revoke the permanent residency status of their residents.

"They need to be treated as we treat Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin and Nablus," he said of the neighbourhoods.

About one-third of Jerusalem's 700,000 residents are Palestinians, most of them living in East Jerusalem. Israel seized control of East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war. Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

In 1980, Israel declared all of Jerusalem as its "eternal and indivisible capital," but the declaration has not been internationally recognized.

Israel used to have a policy of bulldozing the homes of those the government considered terrorists, with 1,500 homes destroyed in the Rafah region of the Gaza Strip alone between 2000 and 2004, according to the United Nations. But Israel recently pledged to end the practice at the urging of human rights groups, and any renewal of the policy is expected to spark legal challenges.

An estimated 20 people live in the family home of the attacker, described in the media as a 30-year-old Palestinian father of two from the Sur Bahir neighbourhood. Soon after the attack, Israeli police raided Dwayat's home and arrested his father and one of his brothers, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Attacker 'went berserk'

Dwayat family's attorney, Shimon Kukush, told Israel Radio that Dwayat wasn't a member of a terrorist organization, but a man who "went berserk" and acted completely alone. He said Dwayat's family was devastated by Dwayat's actions and condemn them fully.

"The prime minister and the defence minister are sparring for the credit of who will demolish the family's house first, even before it is clear if he was a terrorist," Kukush told the radio station, according to the Post.

Neighbours told the Post that Dwayat, who worked for a private construction firm and once was married to a Jewish woman, was rumoured to be involved in criminal activities, not political causes. Some alleged Dwayat was a drug addict.

Some fringe militant groups have claimed responsibility for the attack — including Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, the Galilee Freedom Battalion and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The much larger group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and has a fragile ceasefire agreement with Israel, denied involvement. Still the group praised the attack.

"We consider it as a natural reaction to the daily aggression and crimes committed against our people," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Corrections

  • In the 1967 war, Israel seized control of East Jerusalem from Jordan, not from the Palestinians, as originally suggested.
    Jul 03, 2008 6:12 PM ET

With files from the Associated Press