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Thursday, January 29, 2004

TERROR BOMBING IN JERUSALEM

TEN PEOPLE MURDERED AND 50 WOUNDED

Jerusalem Post, Bret Stephens: Ten people were murdered and 50 wounded when a suicide bomber exploded inside a bus on the corners of Gaza and Arlozorov streets, near the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood at about 8:45 Thursday morning.

Twelve people are listed in very serious condition in three Jerusalem Hospitals.

Assistant director general of Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital Prof. Shmuel Shapira said 10 wounded had arrived at the hospital. Five were seriously wounded, and five others moderately wounded. Most of those brought to the hospital were in their early twenties, Channel 1 reported.

Prof. Shapira said most of the wounded were suffering from lesions caused by metal shards and from the impact of the explosion. "They put in metal balls, nails and bolts into these bombs," Shapira said.

Police and Magen David Adom arrived minutes after the attack, and the area was cordoned off.

Yasser Arafat's Fatah-linked Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack in a call to Israel Radio.

The terror group said the suicide bomber left his Bethlehem home at 4am Thursday morning to make his way to Jerusalem. The caller said the attack was carried out in revenege for the IDF's operation in Gaza City Wednesday, in which ten Palestinian fighters were killed, the Radio reported.

IDF officers said on Army Radio that Thursday's suicide bombing takes more than one day to prepare, and reject the claim it was carried out as a response to Wednesday's operation in Gaza.

Jerusalem Police chief Mickey Levy said there were a large number of fatalities. "The bomb was very big, the entire back end of the bus was ripped apart," he said. He said police had no specific warning for the attack.

Levy said police still had no leads but were investigating. He said police think they know where the suicide bomber mounted the bus.

"Jerusalem Police have recently managed to stop several attacks, including the seizure of three explosive belts. All of these planned attacks are still being investigated. Today," he said, "we had no specific warning of this attack and we couldn't stop it."

"The explosive was a large one," Levy continued, and "we will investigate with the Egged bus company why there was no security person on the bus," Levy said.

Half the roof of the bus was lifted 12 meters in the air and was visible hundreds of meters away from the back part of the bus. On the bus itself every window had been blown out. There were three entire human corpses inside the bus and two others lying outside.

There was a moped that was hit by the explosion, but it was not clear whether the moped driver was amongst those murdered or injured.

Keren, 14, an eyewitness who was waiting for the bus, told Army Radio that the bus blew up meters before it arrived at the station. People began running towards the bus, she said, and then police arrived followed by ambulances. "I remained rooted to the spot, crying, until I was taken to hospital."

Police and security service said they receive between 50 and 60 general terror attack warnings per day.

Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah welcomed the bombing but did not accept responsibility.

Arab media reports a female suicide bomber carried out the attack. Abdel Aziz Rantissi, a Hamas leader in Gaza, stopped short of claiming responsibility but said, "It's not important who carried out this operation. The only thing which is very important is that we are resisting occupiers who came ... to occupy our land and to kill our people," he said.

According to police reports, the suicide bomber managed explode at the back of the bus, ripping off its roof. The bus driver said he did not notice any suspicious-looking person enter the bus, Israel Radio reported.

The explosion occurred moments after the bus pulled away from its last station. The bus starts its route in Hadassah Ein Kerem and makes its way to Hadassah Mount Scopus.

Following the explosion, disoriented people were seen milling around, some were seen at the scene walking around with pieces of human flesh on them. A great deal of blood was seen on the ground, and broken glass littered the streets.

There was a ghostly silence immediately after the attack; the silence one feels in Jerusalem on Shabbat.

Many of the people had managed to get off and make their way to the corner of Arlozorov and Gaza Streets. Some were sitting there in silence. Some of them had pieces of flesh on their jackets.

One person seems to have had his ear torn in half.

Another women was bleeding profusely, her face covered in blood.

Police chief Insp.-Gen. Shlomo Aharonishky said, "This takes us back to the difficult days of the past. There is no change in strategy on the other side. They are always trying to carry out attacks. The thin line of defense comprises the work of the security services, the IDF, Police and Shin Bet. Even despite this we cannot thwart every attack," Aharonishky said.

Aharonishky said the security fence being built around the West Bank would help security forces thwart attacks, but added that there was no foolproof way to stop terrorism. "Let me remind you that even the Great Wall of China had holes in it," he said.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has convened the heads of the security establishment and other agencies to discuss the implications of the bombing, and Israel's response.

Road blocks have been set up by police at all major exits from Jerusalem causing traffic jams at the Gush Etzion Tunnel road.

Scores of Palestinians have been detained at the roadside, and large vehicles are being searched.

US ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer expressed his horror and shock at the murder of innocent Jews and reiterated his belief that "the Palestinians must take all steps to make this stop. To stop incitements and assistance to this murder of Jews and to take very specific action to uproot terrorism from their midst."

The Council of Europe condemned the deadly suicide bombing as a "mindless and indiscriminate act of violence."

Israel's former ambassador to the UN Dore Gold said, "Only the deployment of the Israeli army has prevented more attacks and only the final completion of the security fence will prevent more attacks in the future."

Cancelling a trilateral meeting between Israel, the Palestinian Administration and US envoys John Wolf and David Satterfield, the Israeli foreign ministry and Prime Minister's ofice issued a joint statement saying, "On this difficult day for Israel, in which innocent Israelis are murdered on the streets of its capital, there is no room for concessions to the Palestinian public."

Shalom said that the PA must do all it has pledged to do – to fight terror; otherwise there will be no advance in the process.

Wolf and Satterfield have already met with the both sides, and were to host the trilateral meeting Thursday to re-ignite the stalled US road map.

PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, who Thursday agreed to meet PM Ariel Sharon without preconditions, condemned the suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

Daniel Taub – a spokesman for the Israeli foreign office told the BBC, "this particular attack took place on a bus that runs between two hospitals - there is no depth to which these terrorists are not prepared to sink."

Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski said "a day that should have been a happy one started with many dead and injured. We are one family, made of hard stuff, but this kind of attack has implications for Jerusalem after several months of quiet."

"Terrorists will always find excuses to kill us," he continued. "There is no doubt that intentions exist. I'm glad the fence is going up. I only wish it was happening faster because we all know it protects us all."

The Palestinian Administration condemned the attack. Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said they condemn any attack upon innocent civilians, Israeli or Palestinian.

This is the second explosion near the prime minister's residence, the first occurring on March 5, 2002 at the Moment Cafe. The Prime Minister was not at his Jerusalem residence at the time of the attack.

Diplomatic officials said the prisoner swap with the Hizbullah would continue despite the attack.