JERUSALEM - A lone Palestinian with an improvised sniper rifle shot 10 Israelis to death at a checkpoint in the West Bank yesterday morning, stunning a nation already shocked by a suicide bombing that killed nine people, six of them children, in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood Saturday night.
The army said the gunman opened fire from a hill overlooking the checkpoint near the Jewish settlement of Ofra, hitting reinforcements as they arrived.
The sniper, who escaped, left behind an aging carbine held together with nails, Israel radio reported.
In all, at least 21 Israelis were slain in less than 24 hours. It was one of the worst days for Israel in the strife that has dominated the region for the past 17 months.
During the day, Israeli airstrikes on police stations and a military intelligence building killed four Palestinians. The toll increased early today as Israeli troops stormed into the Jenin and Rafah refugee camps in what was expected to be a major reprisal.
The first major attack on an Israeli checkpoint last week, which left six soldiers dead, led to invasions of refugee camps in Jenin and Nablus that Israel said were major staging areas for terrorists. About 25 Palestinians, mostly armed fighters, were killed in those operations.
The latest suicide bomber, who struck the Beit Yisrael neighborhood Saturday, said on a videotape that he acted in retaliation for the camp invasions. The tape was broadcast on local television yesterday in Bethlehem, the bomber's hometown.
By late morning yesterday, body parts, blood, and incinerated cars had been cleared from Beit Yisrael's Hayim Ozon Street. Hundreds of Orthodox Jews gathered at the scene to pay respects to the dead and discuss the calamity that caught up with their community after three unsuccessful suicide bombing attacks.
Unlike the many other places where Israelis and Arabs have gathered after large numbers of deaths, here there were few calls for vengeance, no chants calling for death to the other side.
When a sanitation truck with three Arab workers on the back drove past the bomb site, some members of the crowd threw trash and spit at them, but more formed a cordon around the Arabs and attempted to protect them.
"No, no! That's not necessary," shouted students and teachers from the many local study houses as they attempted to shelter the Arabs. The Arab men bolted when the truck bogged down in traffic and were chased from the neighborhood by boys who some residents said were members of the vigilante group started by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.
"The Orthodox Jewish viewpoint, across the board, with the exception only of Kahane, is that vengeance is God's alone," said Rabbi Eliyahu Klugman, a teacher of Talmud at a school in Neve Tzion. "Throughout two millennia of exile and suffering, the Jewish people have never encouraged the exercise of vengeance by human beings."
Dozens of fervently religious Jews, up and down Hayim Ozon Street, said they doubted that human endeavor could bring peace. They also acknowledged that they did not have the answers.
"There is a split," said Ya'akov Joseph, a student at Meir Yeshiva, the largest house of Jewish religious study in the world, a stone's throw from the scene. "Some say topple [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat, some say that would turn every Arab into a terrorist."
The tensest moment yesterday came about noon, when a young Orthodox practitioner, whose sect objects to the state-building effort of other Jews, confronted a large number of yeshiva students in the streets. He was punched in the face and chased from the neighborhood.
"When we get attacked and there are nine deaths and 40 injuries and a guy comes and says it's our fault, we are going to get upset about it," said Mair Speigel, 23, of the Meir School, one of the onlookers.
Among these religious Jews, the fact and the fear of the Holocaust looms large.
The Mideast now " is a little like Germany before the Holocaust," said Moshe Cohen, a yeshiva student. "It is the same pattern of people like Hitler thinking and writing about exterminating the Jews" long before they attain power.
Despite such visceral fears, the people of Beit Yisrael, a mix of students from North America, immigrants from the Arab countries, and old families from Jerusalem, say striking back in vengeance against the Arabs is wrong.
"Killing them does not solve anything," said Aaron Bloom, a seller of fire doors who travels between the Bronx and Jerusalem in the course of his business.
"What all this should point out is that there is a superior power that tries to tell us something," he said. "We just have to get the message right.... Each individual must think, `What is my weakest point?' and try to make himself better," and the broader environment will change too.
Moshe Price, a yeshiva student who would have been in the vicinity of the blast had his professor not kept the class an extra 10 minutes, said he had never seen a dead body before and was shocked at the horrific scenes Saturday night.
"About a half-hour later, I prayed," he said. "I prayed, `Let this have a helpful effect on me.' I am still praying. It does not help to go kill some Arabs. They will just bomb more civilians."
Naftali Perkal, 23, who lives in Jerusalem and Brookline and is a follower of the Bostoner Rebbe, said the Saturday night massacre does not mean that the hand of God is not active in current events. "There could have been a hundred killed, a thousand," he said.
"Upset as we are, and as much as we might want revenge, that is not our way," Perkal said.