SEVEN Israeli schoolgirls were shot dead yesterday by a crazed Arab soldier with an automatic rifle. At least another six were wounded in the bloodbath.
It happened on the anniversary of Dunblane, at a beauty spot called "the Island of Peace" on the border with Jordan. About 40 girls, aged 12 and 13, were enjoying the sunshine on a school trip when a Jordanian soldier on a watchtower grabbed a rifle from a comrade and opened fire on them.
As victims fell screaming to the ground, the gunman climbed down from the tower and began chasing those who survived.
He was named as Lance Corporal Ahmed Yousef Mustafa, 22 - an army driver.
An eyewitness saw Mustafa coolly take aim and shoot one girl in the head at point blank range.
When he stopped to reload he was overpowered by other soldiers, who shouted "madman, madman" at him during the killing spree.
It wasn't clear last night whether Mustafa is an anti-Jewish fanatic or simply mentally unbalanced.
One of the injured, Hila Ivri, 13, remembered the gunman as "a bad guy with big eyes".
She wept: "As he fired at us and the girls began falling on the ground I thought it was the end.
"I saw one girl hit in the shoulder. She rolled in the bushes and stopped breathing.
"Then the soldiers came and rescued us and I don't remember any more."
She added: "We had just got off the bus and some of the girls were taking pictures.
"It all looked so wonderful, this green little island in the middle of the River Jordan. Then the soldier opened up on us."
Hila is in hospital with leg wounds. Her twin sister, wounded in the stomach, is in the next bed.
The twins' classmate Tali Saad, 13, told how her friend fell on top of her in the midst of the carnage.
She said: "I screamed: 'Nirit, get up, I'm scared.'
"I turned her over and saw a bullet hole in her chest. She looked at me then died."
Another girl, Ornit, 13, who was shot in the hand, added: "We were walking around and I heard shots close by.
"I turned and saw a soldier taking a clip from his rifle and firing. We ran but he shot me."
Teacher Zachary Ozeri, clutching one of the dead girls' schoolbags, said: "It was like war - girls hit in the throat, neck, stomach, legs."
Another teacher, Rosha Himi, added: "We yelled for the girls to get down and we all tried to hide.
"I saw the soldier load a new clip, but he didn't manage to fire any of it."
Local Israeli council chief Shuri Shalev, who raced to the scene as news of the massacre spread, said: "I was stunned when I heard what had happened.
"Relations here across the border are good. We have never had any violence.
"We immediately organised a shelter for the surviving girls, many of whom were hysterical."
The dead and wounded were taken to hospitals in Jordan, and hundreds of local people queued outside to give blood.
One, farmer Ibrahim Alayan, said: "We are at peace. There should not be such killing and agony."
The victims were later moved to hospital in Israel.
Frantic parents gathered at the girls' school, in the central Israeli town of Beit Shamesh, to wait for news.
Later, the dazed survivors clung to their mums and dads in a tearful reunion.
Pupils at the school are in deep shock, and will be offered counselling. Edan Edri, 12, said: "We're not supposed to be afraid of Arabs now - there's peace."
But Oren Alouk, 13, asked angrily: "How is it peace, when they are dead? This is peace?"
The murder scene, where the Jordan and Yarmuk Rivers meet, is nicknamed Peace Island because of a treaty signed there between Israel and Jordan in 1994.
It's a popular destination for tourists and school parties because it offers fine views of Jordan, Israel and Syria.
Although officially under Jordanian control, Israelis usually have free access to the island. Some even farm there.
Daily Record and Sunday Mail Ltd., 14 March 1997