Text size

Border Police officers on Tuesday fatally shot a Palestinian man as he tried to ram into them with his car during the demolition of the East Jerusalem home of a terrorist who killed three Israelis with a bulldozer last July.

It was the first such demolition since a military commission said in 2005 that destroying a Palestinian attacker's home was an ineffective deterrent against future strikes on Israelis.

The U.S. State Department lambasted Israel over the demolition, urging less "divisive steps" be taken to avoid further conflict.

"Demolitions, evictions aren't helpful, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said, calling on both Israel and the Palestinians to avoid taking steps that are "divisive and that are going to increase tensions in the region."

Clashes erupted at the scene of the shooting on Tuesday, as about 50 Palestinians stoned heavily armed border police with helmets and shields, who fired back with tear gas.

A police spokesman said paramilitary border police who set up a roadblock in Arab East Jerusalem's Sur Bahir neighbourhood, where the demolition took place, shot and killed a "terrorist" who drove into them. He said three policemen were hurt in the incident.

The driver's body was laid out on the street under a white plastic sheet. The windshield of his white Seat car was shattered by about 20 bullet holes.

"One terrorist who was driving a vehicle attempted to run over a number of border police," said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. "The three border police were lightly wounded on the legs when the vehicle hit them, they opened fire and shot and killed the terrorist at the scene."

"The officers acted with determination as is expected of them," Major General Aharon Franco, the commander of the Jerusalem District Police, said on Tuesday after the incident.

The violence fed tensions over the disputed city of Jerusalem - the most emotional and intractable issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The demolition of 30-year-old Hussam Dwayat's house in an Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem was carried out under heavy security and police had set up a roadblock about one kilometer from the site to secure the area, Rosenfeld said.

Outside Dwayat's house, border police stood guard while a crane-mounted pulverizer jaw methodically bit off chunks of stone and concrete walls and sent rubble crashing to the ground. They demolished the top floor of a two-story home where Dwayat had lived, and left the neighbor's residence downstairs intact.

"I didn't see in the past that they demolished a house of any Israeli who killed a Palestinian," Tayssir Dwayat, the attacker's father, said, standing in front of the house as the wrecking crew worked.

"This is not a punishment for one person," said area resident Zuhair Hamdan. "This is a punishment for everyone who says he's an Arab in Jerusalem."

In the July 2 attack, Dwayat used a huge yellow Caterpillar front-loader that he worked with on a Jerusalem railway project in a deadly rampage down a main city thoroughfare. He steamrolled everything in his path, plucking cars off the street, swinging them in the air and then crushing them to the ground with passengers trapped inside. At one point, he rammed into the back of a crowded bus, flipping it on its side.

He killed three people, wounded more than 45 and sent hundreds of panicked residents running for cover before an off-duty soldier shot him dead.

Dwayat's use of a construction vehicle as a weapon was a departure from militants' previous attacks, mostly suicide bombings and shooting sprees. But since then, it appears to have spawned two copycat attacks - as well as a third incident in which a Palestinian motorist tried to ram into a crowd of soldiers walking along a sidewalk.

Israel often destroys attackers' homes in an effort to deter future violence. The practice was halted for several years, but resumed last year after a Palestinian gunman attacked a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem and killed eight young students, said Karim Jubran, a researcher for Israeli human rights roup B'Tselem. The Supreme Court approved the demolition of Dwayat's house.

Peace Now, meanwhile, called on Defense Minister Ehud Barak Tuesday to also destroy the monument in Kiryat Arba to Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 massacred 29 Arab worshipers in Hebron.

"If the security establishment is so sure that the demolition of terrorists' homes is effective and a deterrent, it must also apply this to Jewish attackers," said Peace Now chief Yariv Oppenheimer.

Hussam Dwayat, a 30-year-old father of two, took his construction vehicle on a rampage down Jerusalem's Jaffa Road on July 2. He killed three Israelis before an off-duty soldier shot him dead.

The assault was followed by two similar bulldozer attacks carried out by Palestinians in Jerusalem. No Israelis were killed in the later incidents.