Blast Destroys Israel's Buenos Aires Embassy

from Times Wire Services

A suspected car bomb destroyed the Israeli Embassy and wrecked a nearby school and other buildings Tuesday, killing at least six people and injuring more than 100. About 10 Israeli diplomats were missing and believed buried in the rubble.

"All indications lead us to believe it's a terrorist attack," President Carlos Saul Menem said in a nationally televised news conference. He did not offer evidence.

Rescue crews using spotlights worked through the night in central Buenos Aires searching through the tangle of concrete, wood and metal for possible survivors. Debris and pieces of bodies lay scattered along Arroyo Street in the elegant Barrio Norte neighborhood.

Menem asked the CIA and Israel's Mossad intelligence service to help in the investigation.

The Argentine Interior Ministry blamed the explosion on a car bomb packed with plastic explosives, according to the government news agency Telam.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said it was a car bomb, but he did not indicate who may have set it. "Israel will know the way, or ways, to punish those responsible with all severity," Levy told reporters.

The dead included two policemen and several schoolchildren, according to Menem and the news agency. Earlier reports said four Buenos Aires electric company workers had been killed, but there was no confirmation.

The vice president of the Jewish Assns. of Argentina, Amalia de Polak, said about 10 diplomats were unaccounted for at the embassy and were believed trapped in the rubble. Telam quoted police sources as saying that about 30 people were trapped.

Israeli Embassy officials declined to comment on how many diplomats were in the building at the time of the blast.

Among the injured were children from a primary school across the street and elderly people at a Roman Catholic church shelter nearby, said Mayor Carlos Grosso. "But it's believed there are more," he said.

Menem, speaking on national television, said that 44 to 88 pounds of an unnamed explosive were used in the attack. Without identifying anyone further, he said the attack was carried out by an international terrorist group with the help of Argentine terrorists.

He earlier had speculated that the blast could have been the work of "what remains of Nazism and fundamentalist groups that have been defeated in Argentina." The term "fundamentalists" here usually refers to right-wing military officers.

Several Buenos Aires radio stations said they received telephone calls attributing the blast to various groups.

In Washington, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens called the bombing a terrorist attack by people "whose intention is to kill Jews whether they are in Israel or abroad."

The White House condemned the blast "in the strongest possible terms." "We are shocked by reports from Buenos Aires that the Israeli Embassy has been destroyed by what has appeared to have been a terrorist bomb," White House spokesman Bill Harlow said.

He said the United States has no information on who might be responsible for the blast.

The explosion reduced the central section of the five-story embassy to a jumble of wreckage, forcing rescue workers to have to pick slowly through it with their hands, prying up boards and hefting chunks of concrete.

The blast was heard more than three miles away. The facade of the Catholic primary school and the shelter across the street from the embassy were blown to pieces.

"I never saw death so close," said Dr. Ricardo Rosado, who operates a medical clinic a block away from the embassy.

Added Oscar Caudo, an employee in a pharmacy near the embassy who was tending to a woman and her baby when the blast occurred: "We all flew clear across the room."

Ambulances screamed through the tree-lined streets surrounding the embassy, and rescue workers treated some of the injured in front of the building.

Nili Chaminsky, daughter of Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Shefi, told Israeli Television that her father was not in the building at the time of the explosion.

More than 250,000 Jews live in this city of 10 million--the largest Jewish population of any Latin American city. It also has a large German population, many of whom came to this country after World War II. The city also has a small Arab population.

The blast comes a month after the Argentine government allowed public access to files on World War II-era Nazis.

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