Bethlehem - Ma'an - Israeli special forces gunned down four Palestinians in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Wednesday evening, including a leader in Islamic Jihad, witnesses said.
Islamic Jihad leader Mohammad Shahada, Issa Marzouq, Imad Al-Kamel, and Ahmad Al-Balboul were killed in the attack.
Marzouq and Al-Kamel were also Islamic Jihad activists. Al-Balboul was an activist with the armed wing of Fatah, the Al-Aqsa Brigades.
The Israeli forces entered the area between the Cinema neighborhood and Duheisha refugee camp and opened fire on a car from another civilian car. Shahada and Marzouk sat in the back seat of the car. Al-Kamel was in the driver's seat and Al-Balboul in the passenger's seat.
Witnesses confirmed that undercover Israeli forces sprayed the car with bullets once, then moved closer to the car and opened fire again, as if making sure the men were dead.
Passersby pulled the bodies of the four men from the small red car, which had been parked in front of a bakery when the Israelis opened fire. The men had been waiting for their dinner.
According to one witness, the car appeared to have been "showered with bullets."
Israeli military vehicles quickly appeared, to ferry the assassins out of Bethlehem.
The Palestinian security services said that they transferred the four dead bodies to Al-Hussein hospital in neighboring Beit Jala.
Hundreds of Palestinians converged on the hospital, expressing their deep angerA life of resistance
Veteran activists in the armed Palestinian resistance movement, Shahada and his comrades had evaded the forces of the Israeli occupation for years.
On Wednesday the four activists were in Bethlehem meeting with other Fatah activists in preparation for Fatah's sixth movement conference.
The activists visited the offices of Ma'an News Agency earlier on Wednesday, saying: "The Israeli occupation doesn't want to arrest us. Really, they want to assassinate us."
As if foreseeing his own death, Shahada repeated this sentence to Ma'an's chief editor, Nasser Lahham.
Israeli bulldozers destroyed Shahada's house last Thursday night, immediately following the deadly shooting attack at a Jewish religious school in Jerusalem.
Lahham interviewed Shahada at Bethlehem's Christmas Eve celebrations on Manger Square last December.
Shahada was smiling on Christmas Eve, radiating confidence: "The Palestinian people are capable of raising the flag of liberty and completing their mission. Israel has to realize that military occupation of Palestine does not solve its problems, either now or in the future."
Asked about the US-backed peace initiative, Shahada said, "The Annapolis conference did not reach a brave level of addressing the Palestinian rights. It instead took us back to the Road Map plan trying to vision that the Palestinian problem was only one of security chaos, which every body knows is incorrect."
Finally, asked why he rejected amnesty in favor of continuing with armed struggle, he said, "It is the revolutionaries who have the right to give amnesty to the occupation, and not the opposite."
***Updated at 10:30 Thursday Bethlehem time