The site of the ambush has a name now. The narrow street in the Hebron neighborhood of Jabel Jawar, several dozen meters from the southwesterly entrance to Kiryat Arba, is now known as "Death Alley." This is in addition to "Sniper Alley," of Six-Day War infamy, and the "Bathtub" in the Jenin refugee camp during Operation Defensive Shield, sites where the opponent managed to upturn his numerical inferiority into a tactical advantage.
On Friday night, at the end of a four-and-a-half hour battle, 12 Israelis lay dead; four IDF soldiers, five Border Policemen and three civilians, members of the emergency response squad of Kiryat Arba. Three Islamic Jihad militants were also killed. Beside the bloody battle of the Jenin refugee camp, this is the heaviest toll on the Israel Defense Forces in the territories since the outbreak of the Intifada in September 2000.
The shooting began shortly after 7 P.M. on Friday night. Several moments earlier, the IDF and a Border Police force concluded their weekly mission of securing the Jewish worshipers on their return walk from the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
On the eastern part of the "worshipers' way," some 300 meters between the main road and the "Flea," a little gate in the south-westerly part of Kiryat Arba, some support troops were still deployed, comprising regulars, Border Police and reservists.
The three gunmen arrived from the south, out of the homes of the Palestinian neighborhood. One of them climbed to the top of the homes and made his way to a home overlooking the "Flea." His two comrades positioned themselves on lower roofs. They opened fire simultaneously at three targets: a Jeep of the reservists, near the "Flea;" a Jeep of the Border Police moving nearby; and at a foot patrol of four soldiers walking by an olive grove.
A number of the reservists was injured but managed to respond with shots and killed the gunman above his two cohorts. The four infantry soldiers suffered a heavy blow, hit as soon as they stood up from their own ambush position, set up to ensure the safe passage of the worshipers.
One of them, "Gil," (his real name was still not available for publication), recalls the incident as he lay, lightly injured, at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Kerem, in Jerusalem:
"I was part of the patrol. We were four soldiers walking on foot, in a very dark area between Palestinian homes. Suddenly one or two of the terrorists began firing from behind, and my three comrades were killed. I was lightly wounded, and the terrorists must have thought that I was dead so they did not continue shooting at me."
What "Gil" did not know is that two of his comrades were killed and another lay seriously injured.
At the same time, the Border Police Jeep moved down the alley and then turned around. One of the gunmen leaped at them from inside a house and fired from about a meter away. The Jeep was bullet-proof, but clearly not at that distance - shots went through it. Apparently the gunman managed to open the door and fire inside at point blank range. Three Border Policemen were killed, and one was injured.
Another Border Police Jeep, carrying the Chief of Operations for the Border Police unit, Superintendent Samih Swidan, and another officer, entered the alley. The gunman struck in the same way, killing them both.
Minutes later, the Hebron Brigade Commander, Colonel Dror Weinberg, arrived at the scene. Weinberg, an experienced combat soldier, a former officer in the elite Sayeret Matkal, was out of the Jeep and on his way forward on foot when he was hit by the barricaded gunmen. He continued forward and then began making his way back, when he discovered he was hit in the chest. He fell near his soldiers, and died minutes later.
As "Gil" recalls, "I immediately called for the IDF patrol Jeep to come and get us out but they never arrived. I did not understand what was taking them so long, and later I learned that they were also hit hard and most of the soldiers were injured."
What "Gil" did not know is that Colonel Weinberg managed to rally the Kiryat Arba civilian emergency response squad before being killed.
A resident of the Jewish settlement, Shmuel Tzabari, says the family was sitting at dinner when they received a call at about 8 P.M. "During dinner we started hearing the shooting. We thought that it may have been a soldier firing a burst. But the shooting continued and my wife, who runs the control center for the emergency squad, was called to go to the center and take up her post."
The head of the emergency squad from Kiryat Arba, Yitzhak Boanish, and two of his men, rushed the gunmen and were all killed. An IDF lieutenant, drove an armored personnel carrier into the alley and raised his head to locate the shooters. He was also shot dead.
The confusion was made worse by the darkness.
"Gil" says that he almost did not manage to return fire at the shooters who were located on top of buildings during the early stages of the attack. "It was dark and I could not pinpoint their positions. I saw a number of figures but I did not shoot at them because I was not sure whether they were the terrorists. Now I understand that they were in a building over me. Had I known, I would have thrown grenades and finished off the building."
Unable to identify the terrorists clearly, "Gil" could only fire off flares for the rescue forces.
Control over the situation was gradually restored with the trickling in of more forces and senior officers. Lieutenant Colonel Eran, head of the Nahal Brigade in Hebron, and soldiers from the Duvdevan elite unit, rushed to Hebron from Ramallah, outflanked the gunmen and killed them. That was close to 11:30 P.M., more than four hours after the battle started.
"It was like the battle for Ammunition Hill [in Jerusalem during the Six-Day War]. A burst, then a grenade; another burst and another grenade," Eran recalls.
Trained for ambush
Near the gunmen, the soldiers found M-16 rifles, grenades and at least eight magazines with ammunition each.
"These gunmen did not come to shoot and run," a senior officer told Ha'aretz yesterday. "They were well-prepared, collected information and prepared accordingly. They fired, hit and waited for the next force to move toward them."
Reserve Captain Boaz Hoening, from Tel Aviv, commander of the reservist platoon, participated in the battle from the start. "The evacuation of the wounded took time, but overall it was done efficiently," he says. "Every time we pulled people out, we were hit. The gunmen were moving around all the time, between the homes, and found better positions. They were well-trained.
Settlers accuse IDF of cowardice
Settlers from Kiryat Arba accused the soldiers of cowardice and said that because of their behavior, civilians needed to intervene as part of the emergency response squad.
The IDF rejects these claims. "Soldiers, police and civilians fell together [in this battle]," said a senior officer. "Everyone fought bravely. Boenisch went in to save Dror [the Brigade Commander] who was his good friend."
After the incident, IDF bulldozers destroyed the three homes from which the gunmen fought and also the olive grove where the patrol was hit.
Hebron was put under curfew and all movement by Palestinians is restricted.
Yesterday afternoon, a group of settlers arrived at the site of the battle, headed by Zvi Katzover, head of the Kiryat Arba Council, who demanded that the IDF "clear the area, " referring to several hundred Palestinian homes along the "worshipers' way."
Youths from Kiryat Arba, led by an older man, threatened the journalists there with violence "if you do not stop filming us on Shabbat." An older man entered a Palestinian home and threatened: "In the evening [at the end of Shabbat], you will begin crying."
He later explained that "the time has come for actions and the media should not be here to see it. We will act, because if we do nothing, you in Tel Aviv will not be saved."
11 of Hebron wounded in hospital, 4 serious Eleven of those injured in the attack in Hebron on Friday night are still in hospital in various medical centers in the capital.
Four of the injured are in serious to critical condition.
At Hadassah University Hospital at Ein Karem, six of the injured being treated, four of them in serious condition. The other two wounded have moderate to light injuries.
At Hadassah University Hospital at Mt. Scopus, two of the lightly injured are recovering, and at Sha'arei Tzedek hospital, three moderately to light injured are being treated.