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Jordan Frees Soldier Who Killed 7 Israeli Schoolgirls in ’97 Rampage


Ahmed Daqamseh, in sunglasses, was welcomed home in the village of Ibdir in northern Jordan after being released from prison, where he served 20 years. Credit Numan Alquzaa/European Pressphoto Agency

JERUSALEM — The fragile treaty between the two former enemies was not even three years old when a Jordanian soldier went on a shooting rampage and killed seven Israeli schoolgirls visiting a park in a border area known as the Island of Peace.

On Sunday, almost 20 years after that March 13, 1997, attack, the Jordanian authorities released the soldier, Ahmed Daqamseh, a former corporal, after he effectively completed his term.

Amid the grief and outrage over what became known as the Island of Peace massacre, King Hussein, then the ruler of Jordan, managed to salvage the spirit of reconciliation and provide some balm.

The king paid a rare visit to Israel and made condolence calls to each of the bereaved families. Kneeling to speak with them as they sat on the floor in their homes as part of the Jewish mourning custom of shiva, he apologized and told them: “Your daughter is like my daughter. Your loss is my loss.”

While the visit angered many in Jordan, it was seen as a gesture of friendship and humility by many in Israel and the West.

Two decades later, Mr. Daqamseh’s release rekindled some of those emotions. The Israeli-Jordanian peace has proved firm and lasting, but it still exists mainly at the government level and has not been popularly embraced.

The Island of Peace, about 12 miles south of the Sea of Galilee, was formally returned to Jordan when it made peace with Israel in fall 1994, but was then leased back to an Israeli kibbutz. Mr. Daqamseh fired on the girls, who were on a class outing, from a border post in Jordanian territory.

After the attack, a Jordanian medical team gave Mr. Daqamseh a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder; a military court sentenced him to life in prison. Life sentences are not open-ended in Jordan, and can essentially be commuted after 20 years.


Mr. Daqamseh’s mother and other relatives gathering on Sunday upon his return home. Credit Jamal Nasrallah/European Pressphoto Agency

Mr. Daqamseh, who also injured five other girls and a teacher in the rampage, said at the time that the seventh and eighth graders had mocked him as he was performing his prayers.

Early on Sunday, Mr. Daqamseh returned to his family’s home in Ibdir, a village in the governorate of Irbid in northern Jordan. Roya News, an independent Jordanian station, broadcast video of his homecoming, and photographs spread widely in the local news media.

Israeli radio and news sites described the reception Mr. Daqamseh received from his family and other well-wishers as a hero’s welcome, also posting photographs and video of the local celebrations.

A Jordanian military spokesman confirmed the release, but the government appeared to be trying to keep it low key. The police prevented reporters from reaching Ibdir later on Sunday, citing orders from the local governor, who demanded that journalists obtain permission from the Ministry of Interior.

Mr. Daqamseh, now in his 40s, emerged from prison with patches of gray hair and sunken eyes. He was defiant and showed no remorse.

In his first statement to the news media from his home, he said, “There is no country named Israel,” adding that any normalization of ties with Israel and the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be resolved by means of a two-state solution were both “lies.”

Some Jordanians continued to see Mr. Daqamseh as a symbol of an anti-normalization movement against the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty.

The Israeli government and the bereaved families had protested earlier calls in Jordan for Mr. Daqamseh’s prison term to be cut short. There was no immediate comment from Israeli officials on Sunday, and relatives who spoke to the news media appeared mostly resigned to his release.

“I always say that our peace with Jordan is with the royal family, not the people or their parliament,” Yisrael Fatihi, whose daughter, Sivan, 13, was killed in the attack, told Ynet, a Hebrew news site.

Hezi Cohen, the father of Nirit, 13, another victim, described his family’s daily pain. On one hand, he said, Mr. Daqamseh had served his full sentence. On the other, he said, “If he had received 20 years for each girl he murdered, he would have rotted in prison for the rest of his life.”

Source: NYT > World

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