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Police sources said yesterday that the shooting of a Palestinian by a settler on Monday was an act of self-defense, but the findings of a Haaretz investigation cast serious doubt on this conclusion.

Yehoshua Elitzur of Itamar killed taxi driver Sael Jabara, 46, on the access road to the settlement of Elon Moreh. Elitzur claimed that he shot in self-defense after Jabara tried to run him off the road, and police sources said yesterday that they believe him. This means that Elitzur is now suspected only of manslaughter rather than murder.

But Haaretz's interviews with three of Jabara's passengers indicate that no argument or confrontation of any kind preceded the shooting. All three passengers have also been interviewed by the police.

According to the passengers, five people entered Jabara's taxi in the West Bank village of Salem at about 12:30 P.M. on Monday. The regular access road from Salem to the main road is blocked by the Beit Furik roadblock, so the taxi instead took a dirt road that funnels into the access road to Elon Moreh. According to the passengers, there are daily incidents between settlers and Palestinians on this road.

Nael Mansour, 25, a clothes merchant from the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, described what happened next as follows: "We traveled a short distance to the main road, and at this stage we did not yet see anyone. We began to ascend the rise that leads to the road, and then to the left of our vehicle a few meters away from us, I saw the settler with a big rifle aimed at the window of Sael, the driver. I saw that he [the settler] was saying all kinds of things, but the windows were closed and I didn't understand what he was saying, even though I understand a little Hebrew. Sael began slowly turning right and intended to open the window, because we were afraid of him [the settler].

"Then the settler yelled `stop!' and shortly afterward he fired a single shot that hit Sael in the hand and chest. There was a lot of blood, and the car continued going right. I held onto Sael and then I hit the brakes with my foot and pulled the hand brake and the car stopped. The settler was still there, and I was afraid to leave the car. We were all afraid that he would kill us all, but Ahmed, who sat behind me, got out and began shouting at him: `What have you done? You've killed him! Call an ambulance!'

"But the settler shouted something in Hebrew at him and turned toward his red car, which was parked on the other side of the road. A few seconds later, another car came toward Elon Moreh and we flagged it down to ask [the driver] to call an ambulance or evacuate Sael, but the first settler shouted various things and the driver continued driving and didn't stop. In the end, we moved Sael to the seat beside the driver and drove toward the Beit Furik roadblock.

Rahma Shtayeh, a 33-year-old from Salem, described the incident as follows: "We drove on the dirt road, and had reached the main road when suddenly I heard a shot. When I looked out the window I saw the settler, and then [I saw] the blood. I started to scream like a mad woman, because I thought he was going to kill us all. The others also shouted, and then I saw the one who was sitting next to the driver hit the brakes so the car wouldn't roll. Then I saw another man in the middle seat open the door, get out and begin shouting at the settler, who turned around and left. Then the man who got out returned to the car and drove the car to the Beit Furik roadblock."

Ahmed Shtayeh, 37, a shepherd from Salem, gave the following description: "The car had finished climbing the rise, and Jabara began turning left onto the road when we all saw a tall, bearded, brown-haired settler standing in the middle of the road, and behind him, a red Fiesta car.

"Sael thought the settler needed help and slowed the car, and then he opened the window and was speaking to him in Hebrew when suddenly the settler aimed an M-16 rifle at him and two seconds later, he shot, while the window was still closed. The weapon had been loaded earlier, and the settler who was standing in the road fired a bullet at Sael that hit his left hand and tore it to pieces and afterward also entered the left side of his chest. He lost consciousness and we tried to treat him. I opened the door and shouted at the settler to come help and call an ambulance, but he said, in Hebrew, `God willing, he will die' and left. Another car, with another settler inside, arrived, but the first settler shouted at him to keep going and he didn't stop. In the end, we drove to the Beit Furik roadblock."

Jabara's death is only the latest in a string of incidents over the last four years in which at least five Palestinian civilians have been either fatally shot or run over by settlers in this area, which includes the settlements of Elon Moreh, Itamar, Yitzhar and Har Bracha. Jabara's body has not yet been released from the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Abu Kabir.