BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip, (AP) – Gunmen smashed windows, burned buses and looted computers belonging to a private American school in Gaza before dawn Saturday, an attack officials believed was linked to President Bush’s visit to the West Bank earlier this week.
Also in the Gaza Strip, a roadside bomb injured three policemen from Hamas, the Islamic militant group which controls the coastal territory, while medics found the body of another policeman who had been shot to death.
Saturday’s attack on the American International School was the second in 48 hours. On Thursday, just before Bush arrived in the West Bank, gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the school.
On Saturday, gunmen locked the school’s unarmed guard in a room, burned six school buses, and smashed windows and computers, said principal Ribhi Salim. Other computers were stolen. No one claimed credit for the attack, which left one side of the building scarred with black smoke.
“This is terrorism against education,” Salim said, while inspecting damage.
The school has been repeatedly targeted by vandals in the past for its perceived U.S. link. Many Palestinians resent the U.S. government for what they consider a pro-Israel bias. The private school in northern Gaza holds classes in English and uses a U.S.-style curriculum but has no ties to the U.S. government.
Ihab Ghussein, a spokesman for the Hamas-led Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip, condemned the incident and said he believed the attacks were related to Bush’s recent visit.
“Regardless of the reasons — whether to protest, or because of the visit of the American president, this is not a way to express oneself. This is a criminal act,” Ghussein said.
The Bush visit — part of a broader tour of the Middle East — was aimed largely at pushing forward the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has established a government in the West Bank that the U.S. hopes can work out a deal with the Israelis.
The U.S. and Israel consider Hamas — which won control of Gaza after defeating Abbas’ Fatah movement in June — a terrorist group. Bush visited Israel but limited his travels in Palestinian territory to the West Bank, steering clear of Gaza.
A roadside bomb also injured three Hamas policemen lightly Saturday, Ghussein said. The bomb was detonated as a police patrol drove along a main road in Gaza.
Assailants have planted a series of roadside bombs targeting Hamas police since the militant group seized Gaza. Hamas has blamed the attacks on Fatah, but the group denies involvement.
Medical officials said they found the body of a Hamas policeman, shot three times in the head and dumped in an isolated area of central Gaza.