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Israeli soldier kills four Arab bus passengers

Sharon condemns attack as act of 'bloodthirsty Jewish terrorist'

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- An Israeli soldier opened fire inside a bus in Israel's northern Galilee region Thursday, killing four Israeli Arabs and seriously wounding five other people before he was killed, according to Israeli police.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon condemned the attack, calling it "a reprehensible act of a bloodthirsty Jewish terrorist who sought to attack innocent Israeli citizens."

"This terrorist event was a deliberate attempt to harm the fabric of relations among all Israeli citizens," Sharon said in a statement issued by his office.

An angry mob in the predominantly Israeli Arab town of Shfaram surrounded the bus shortly after the shooting.

Police spokesman Eran Feinmesser could not confirm Israeli media reports that the gunman was killed by the mob.

The shooting victims included the bus driver and a passenger, both residents of Shfaram.

Sharon's statement added: "The entire State of Israel, regardless of race, religion or sex, strongly condemns this act of terrorism.

"The government is determined to protect the lives of Israel's citizens, from all ethnic communities and sectors; I have instructed the security services to accord the highest priority to investigating this terrorist attack."

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed the shooter was an Israeli soldier.

Israeli television reported the soldier, a West Bank settler, went AWOL two months ago because he did not want to participate in removing settlers from Gaza and the West Bank as part of Sharon's disengagement plan.

Sharon vowed Monday that his plan to withdraw Israeli troops and about 9,000 Jewish settlers in Gaza and four small areas of the West Bank will go ahead as planned starting August 15.

Last month, Israel's parliament, the Knesset, rejected a bill by a 69-41 vote that would have delayed the pullout for three months.

The Israeli government has said the disengagement plan will redraw the landscape of the Middle East, allowing for the possible resumption of the peace process with the Palestinian Authority.

The plan has generated anger among Israeli settlers and their supporters, who have staged protests and scuffled with police and Palestinians in recent weeks.

The most recent protest took place Tuesday as hundreds of demonstrators gathered to march near the Gaza border. (Full story)

Organizers said the goal of the march was to tie up thousands of Israeli police and soldiers who otherwise would be training to handle the disengagement.

Israel closed off access to Gaza settlements by nonresidents last month to prevent protesters from disrupting the pullout.

Israel has controlled the 138-square-mile area of Gaza since capturing it from Egypt during the 1967 Six-Day War. It occupied the West Bank at the same time, wresting it from Jordan.

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