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Jordanian soldier kills 7 Israeli schoolgirls


Shooting outrages King Hussein

March 13, 1997
Web posted at: 6:49 p.m. EST (2349 GMT)

NAHARAYIM, Jordan (CNN) -- A Jordanian soldier opened fire Thursday on Israeli junior high school girls visiting a border observation post. At least seven girls died, and six were injured, two critically.

Jordan's King Hussein expressed outrage at the killings, but defended his earlier warning that Israel's hard-line policies could cause an outbreak of violence. He cut short a visit to Spain to return to Jordan.

Witnesses said a bus dropped off about 40 girls at the observation post on the Jordan River island of Naharayim -- known as the "Island of Peace'' -- on the Israeli-Jordanian border.

While the girls admired the view, there was a hail of automatic gunfire as the soldier, Lance Cpl. Ahmed Yousef Mustafa, chased the terrified seventh- and eighth-graders down a hill. He had changed ammunition clips before he was overpowered by other Jordanian soldiers, authorities said.

Jordanians donate blood

Mustafa was said to be a army driver in his 20s who started his posting at the border area earlier this year.

Seven victims were taken to a nearby Jordanian hospital. Of those, five were dead on arrival, Jordanian Health Minister Dr. Aref Batayneh said.

The five bodies, draped in white cloth shrouds, were flown to Israel in an Israeli military helicopter along with two wounded girls. Two dead girls were on the Israel side of the border. Four of the wounded received treatment in Israel, police said.

In Shuna, near the site of the shooting, dozens of Jordanians stood in line to give blood when they heard of the shooting.

"What happened today is a shame to all of us," Hussein told reporters. "It's a shame to the Jordanians and their characters. It's a shooting in the back ... I pray this will be an awakening to all of us."

Hussein: 'This is not political'

The shooting comes amid growing tensions between Israel and Jordan. In a letter released earlier this week, Hussein said the actions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seem "bent on destroying all I believe in or have striven to achieve."

But on Thursday, Hussein telephoned Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to offer condolences, and downplayed the significance of the shooting. "This is not political," he said.

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Netanyahu called the attack "unacceptable."

"Violence ... should be banished from our midst," he said. "We should all unite in the battle against those who would violate the basic human rights of children and trample all human rights into the dust."

U.S. President Bill Clinton condemned the slayings and urged Middle East leaders to redouble their efforts toward peace and reconciliation.

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"There is no justification or excuse for these acts," Clinton said in Washington.

Motive unclear

The gunman's motives were not immediately known. Jordanian soldiers at the scene said he "went crazy."

The attack occurred just before noon. Naharayim, 55 miles (88 km) northeast of Tel Aviv, belongs to Jordan, which leases the island to Israel under the 1994 peace accord. Israel farms the land.

The girls, ages 13 to 15, came from a school in the central Israeli town of Beit Shemesh.

Teacher Rosa Chemy said the group of schoolgirls met with a Jordanian officer, who checked the their ID cards before they started a guided tour of the island.

"We are standing and listening and all of a sudden we hear shots," Chemy told Israel radio. "A Jordanian soldier who was standing above began shooting."

A girl named Oranit, who was shot in the hand, said: "I turned around and saw a soldier taking a magazine from his rifle and firing, and we ran to the hill. ... He shot me in the hand."


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