HIZMA, West Bank -- An Israeli special forces unit shot and killed a Palestinian and wounded three others yesterday during an undercover operation in this village north of Jerusalem, officials and witnesses said.
But the events that led to the fatal shooting of Mohammed Abdul Aziz remained in dispute. His death may become only another statistic in the cycle of violence that ensnares Israel's military and residents of the West Bank, or the catalyst for larger clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israeli military officers said that soldiers who were dressed in civilian clothes fired in Hizma only after being pelted with stones. Maj. Gen. Gabi Ofir, army commander for the West Bank, said the army was preparing for possible disturbances because of Israel's plans to build a Jewish neighborhood of 6,500 homes in East Jerusalem.
A government decision on the project, known as Har Homa, is expected today, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Palestinians yesterday not to protest against the project. But Palestinians have warned that the construction plans could spark violent protests.
"I hope people will weigh things in a practical way," Netanyahu said, "and understand we are acting here for the good of Arabs and Jews, and, of course, with the aim of continuing the peace process along additional channels."
Palestinians warned that the housing project could threaten the peace process. "We are telling them [Israel]: 'You are playing with fire,' " said Faisal al-Husseini, the senior Palestinian official in Jerusalem. "There will be an explosion."
Residents of Hizma, including one of the wounded men, said the shooting yesterday was unprovoked.
Residents said three soldiers jumped a 22-year-old villager, Hamzeh Nayef, and held him at gunpoint after he asked why they were outside his house. Witnesses said that when Nayef's father-in-law and uncle tried to intervene, the soldiers shot them.
Israeli soldiers on patrol were then made the targets of stone-throwers, army officers said. A walk through the village found the street outside the dead man's house littered with rocks and boulders. Soldiers later sealed off the village and were seen detaining residents.
Israeli military officials said they contacted the Palestinian authority, which controls civil matters in this part of the West Bank. Col. Jabril Rajoub, the head of Palestinian Preventive Security, arrived in the village after the shooting.
"What happened is a black stain, and Palestinians were killed just because they are Palestinians," he told Israeli television.
In the village, Ali Mutlaque Salah Eddin sat in a corner of his living room last night, nursing his bandaged left leg. A crowd of village men and young boys joined him there. He gave this account of the shooting:
Salah Eddin was on his way home from work about 5: 20 p.m. when he heard screaming from the home of his nephew, Hamzeh Nayef. Salah Eddin reached Nayef's house and saw his nephew pinned to the ground by a man holding a pistol to his head. Salah Eddin said two other men with pistols drawn stood on either side of Nayef.
He said he learned later that Nayef was showering when he heard voices outside his house, then went outside and saw three zTC men sitting in his yard, approached them and asked why they were there.
"One guy immediately threw him to the round and put a gun to his head," said Salah Eddin.
Salah Eddin said he spoke to the men in Hebrew and asked them to release his nephew. He approached them, with his arms raised, and said they didn't want any trouble. Then, he said, "They shot me."
Nayef's father-in-law, Mohammed Abdul Aziz, arrived about the same time and tried to intervene. As neighbors helped him, the wounded Salah Eddin said, he heard two shots. Another witness, Ali Abu Samra, said he saw the men grab Abdul Aziz, hit him with their pistols, throw him to the ground and shoot him in the legs.
Uniformed soldiers arrived in the village and put Aziz in a military vehicle, the witnesses said. Officials said Abdul Aziz, 55, was pronounced dead at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
Nayef was treated for minor injuries at a Ramallah hospital and released.
Pub Date: 2/26/97