Jordanian soldier fires on Israeli children

NAHARAYIM, Jordan (AP) — Grabbing a comrade’s assault rifle, a Jordanian soldier fired on Israeli junior high school girls taking a field trip Thursday to a Jordan River island known as a symbol of Mideast peace. Seven girls were killed and six were wounded.
Still shooting, the gunman chased the screaming students down a grassy river embankment while his fellow soldiers yelled “Madman, madman” before overpowering him. He was in the custody of Jordanian security officials.
It was unclear whether the gunman, 22-year-old army driver Lance Cpl. Ahmed Yousef Mustafa, had political motives or was mentally unstable. But the shooting on the island of Naharayim — known as the “Island of Peace” — came at a time of deep crisis between Israel and Jordan over the impasse in Mideast peacemaking.
Israeli leaders indirectly blamed Jordan’s King Hussein for creating the climate that made such violence possible. “Words and a difficult atmosphere can also lead to violence,” Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai said.
Earlier this week, Hussein sent a harsh letter to Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing the prime minister of endangering Mideast peace with his tough policies toward the Palestinians.
“When I warned a few days ago of the danger of the possibility of violence, I never thought it would lead to this,” the king said in Spain, where he cut short a trip to return home. He bristled, however, at suggestions he was somehow responsible, saying he has the right to warn of the dangers to peacemaking.
The shooting also was “aimed at me, my children, the people of Jordan,” Hussein said. The king later phoned Netanyahu, saying he wanted to visit the families of the slain children.
“I cannot offer enough condolences or express enough personal sorrows to the mothers, fathers and brothers of these children who fell today,” Hussein said on his return to Amman.
Netanyahu took a defiant tone in a eulogy for four of the victims Thursday night, emphasizing that the massacre would not lead Israel to compromise in its hard-line policies toward sharing territory with the Palestinians.
“If someone thinks he will break our spirit and that we will give up … our holy land and our eternal capital, he doesn’t know the great strength in every person around me here,” he told the thousands gathered for the funeral.
Distraught families screamed out the names of their murdered children at the service. Overcome, two of the mothers fainted, Israeli radio stations said.
President Clinton called the shootings a “senseless denial of a future for these children” and said: “I condemn this act in the strongest possible terms.”
The president called Netanyahu from Air Force One en route to North Carolina to express condolences.
The shooting happened shortly after 11 a.m., when the students from the Feirst School, a modern Orthodox school in central Israel, arrived at the border post.
They were visiting Naharayim, a man-made island that Israel returned to Jordan under the two countries’ 1994 peace treaty. It is a popular tourist spot for Israelis, and a sign at the entrance reads “Island of Peace.”
Memorial candles arranged in the shape of the number seven flickered outside the Feirst School. Students prayed together quietly. A sign said: “May their memories be blessed.”