A wave of terror by Palestinian Islamic extremists intensified Wednesday when a bomb exploded aboard a packed commuter bus in the heart of northern Israel, killing five Israelis and wounding 28 others.
It was the second such attack in a week, apparently launched in retaliation for the Feb. 25 massacre by a Jewish settler of about 30 praying Palestinians in a Hebron mosque.
As paramedics frantically cleared the dead and treated the wounded at Wednesday's bomb site in the parking lot of Hadera Central Bus Station, police discovered a second device planted nearby. It apparently was timed to explode during the rescue operation.
Army sappers cleared the area moments before the second bomb exploded inside a small suitcase on a bench 20 yards away.
Israeli police at the scene said they suspected that a Palestinian man, whose body was among the dead in the twisted remains of Eged Bus 820, was a suicide bomber from the occupied West Bank; he is believed to have placed the explosives near the bus's rear door on behalf of the armed wing of the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas.
Hamas claimed responsibility for Wednesday's bombing in a statement from neighboring Jordan. The group also repeated its vow to launch four more such attacks before the end of Israel's Independence Day today; Hamas first made that threat when it claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing of a bus that killed seven Israelis a week ago in the town of Afula, about 25 miles northeast of here.
Hamas opposes Israel's efforts to negotiate a Mideast peace and Palestinian autonomy in the Israeli-occupied territories, especially in the aftermath of the massacre of Palestinians in Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs by Baruch Goldstein, an extremist Israeli settler and Brooklyn-born physician.
Survivors of Wednesday's attack--which was condemned by Israeli leaders and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat--were riding on a bus that had started its route in Afula 40 minutes earlier.
They gave a chilling account of the final moments before the bomb ripped through the bus containing about 70 shoppers, commuters, soldiers on leave and mourners traveling from Hadera to cemeteries in Tel Aviv to mark Israel's Memorial Day.
Authorities were still attempting to identify the dead and inform their relatives. But they said the casualties included Rahamim Mazgalka, a 43-year-old recent immigrant from Ethiopia, and David Moyal, 27, of Tel Aviv.
Israeli leaders condemned the bombing as "a despicable murder," made all the worse by its timing on the day that Israel sets aside each year to remember its war dead.
Members of the political right wing said the attack strengthened their call for an end to Israel's attempt to forge peace with the Palestine Liberation Organization; opposition leaders sent dozens of demonstrators to key intersections in Hadera, where they shook fists, chanted "Death to Arabs!" and hoisted placards proclaiming "The Land of Israel Is in Danger!" and "The Prime Minister Should Resign!"
But Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, adding to his prepared Memorial Day speech among the 3,500 graves in Jerusalem's Mt. Herzl Military Cemetery, said his government remains committed to negotiating for peace with the PLO.
"These are difficult days for Israel," Rabin said. "Terrorism is increasing, and today Jews and Israelis paid with their lives, by despicable murderers. But we will continue to extend our hand toward peace, in order to put an end to the mourning."
In a news conference later, Rabin said he was beefing up Israel's troop presence on the "Green Line" between the occupied territories and Israel itself to make a strict, week-old closure of the territories more effective. And he indicated that in the aftermath of Wednesday's bombing, towns within Israel will take precedence in security over the Jewish settlements in the territories.
"My greatest responsibility is to the residents of sovereign Israel," he said, adding, "We will bring more forces (into Israel) from those who are guarding the settlements."
A political movement representing the settlers responded swiftly and angrily, asserting that Rabin's redeployment is not intended to protect Israeli citizens. "The prime minister is enlisting the Israel Defense Forces and police to protect his weakening government," declared Yesha, the settlers organization.
Rabin also squared off against just such right-wing pronouncements. He told reporters that the right-wing backlash after each recent Hamas attack has served only as "a political dividend" for Islamic fundamentalists opposed to the peace process, saying: "Whoever says 'Stop the negotiations' gives Hamas and the Islamic Jihad an additional incentive to continue with terrorism."
Within hours of the Hadera attack, Arafat publicly condemned it. He said in Strasbourg, France, where he was addressing European lawmakers: "These attacks target only the innocents on both sides--Israelis and Palestinians--and serve only to hit at the heart of the peace process."
Arafat also telephoned Rabin on Wednesday night to express his regret.
Arafat had been widely criticized for failing to more vigorously condemn the earlier attack in Afula. Wednesday's incident in Hadera occurred on the date that Arafat and Rabin had agreed last September would be the deadline for Israeli withdrawal and Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.
In interviews, few of the survivors in Hadera, a quiet, working-class town of 50,000, expressed support for the peace process after the 9:40 a.m. bomb shattered their lives.
"We'll never have peace here with these crazy people," said Haya Botto, 52, her hand freshly bandaged and sneakers still wet with blood in the emergency room of Hadera's Hillel Yaffe Hospital. Botto, a Haderan, had boarded Bus 820 just moments before the bomb exploded. She was en route to a Tel Aviv cemetery to mourn her brother Moshe, who was among the 18,000 fallen Israeli soldiers whom this nation memorialized in somber ceremonies on Wednesday.
"We want very much the peace, if it will be the real peace," Botto said. "But you cannot make peace with sick people."
In reconstructing the anxious few moments before the explosion and the horror of its aftermath, the survivors underscored what Israel's police chief, Rafi Peled, has insisted--that it is virtually impossible to avert suicide attacks.
"We don't have any fence or wall between the West Bank and Israel," Peled told reporters. "We don't have a complete answer to any terror attack. . . . But we need more cooperation from our citizens so we can have more eyes on the street."
The passengers aboard Bus 820 had demonstrated the wariness urged upon Israelis by numerous public posters: At least one of them said she scanned the bus and spotted the small, black suitcase that concealed the bomb.
"I was asking, 'Whose bag is this?!' " said Jakline Ben Loulou, as she nursed her 12-year-old daughter's broken leg in the hospital emergency room. "No one claimed it. So I yelled for the driver. But he had gotten off the bus already. He was talking to a soldier outside. Then, in two seconds, everything behind us blew up. Everybody is telling us to look for suspicious objects, and when I did, the driver was not there."
Rachel Moalem, 50, recalled hearing Ben Loulou and other passengers shouting about the suitcase nearby. Moalem, who suffered serious injuries, said she was saved only because a soldier--who was killed--had offered her his seat on the overcrowded bus when she boarded.
"Seconds later, we heard the explosion, and things were flying at me from every side," she recalled. "The person next to me--he was a young civilian--he was completely mangled, covered with blood. I was hysterical."
Israeli army 1st Lt. Karen Solomonowitz, 19, was sitting opposite the rear door of the bus, where most survivors agreed the explosion occurred. "I know the soldier sitting next to the door was killed," she said, her wounded right leg staining the sheets of her hospital bed as she spoke. "And I believe if there weren't so many people in the aisle, I would have been hit too."
Solomonowitz said she began her journey home to Tel Aviv on Bus 820 at the beginning of its route in Afula. But she said she slept most of the way, so she saw no one suspicious board. "I woke up in Hadera," she said. "The bus was completely full. . . . Then there was the explosion.
"My uniform started burning," she recalled. "I smothered the fire with my hands. But my legs were hurt. Because of the panic, I couldn't walk. Then the soldiers came and dragged me out the back door."
Emily Hauser, of The Times' Jerusalem Bureau, contributed to this report.