Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin vowed Monday to continue peace talks with the Palestinians as the Islamic extremist group Hamas claimed responsibility for a morning rush-hour bus bombing that left five people dead and 108 injured.
Two Israelis and an American tourist--identified as Joan Davenny, a Connecticut teacher on sabbatical--were among those killed in the Jerusalem blast, part of a violent campaign to end peace negotiations between Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The extremists managed to delay the talks as Rabin temporarily suspended negotiations while grieving families bury their dead.
But the prime minister insisted, as he has after previous attacks, that he will push forward with the peace process.
“This is a hard and painful day, but we are determined to fight the Hamas and Islamic Jihad [another militant group] terrorism and to continue to build peace with the Palestinians who want peace with us,” Rabin said.
Israel and Arafat’s Palestinian Authority are on the verge of an agreement for expanding Palestinian rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Arafat also condemned the suicide bombing.
Israeli police were investigating the possibility that Monday’s suicide bomber may have been a woman, because two badly mangled bodies--one male and one female--remained unidentified.
But in a radio broadcast from Syria, Hamas referred to “one of our men” who “exploded the bomb he was carrying when the bus reached a ‘major Zionist center.’ ”
It would be unprecedented for Hamas to use a woman for a suicide mission.
Monday’s bombing was the eighth by Islamic extremists since Rabin and Arafat approved the peace accord in 1993 but the first targeting civilians in Jerusalem--the highly emotional heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The attack touched off dozens of angry protests throughout the country by Israelis opposed to giving up West Bank land to Palestinians. Sirens could be heard in Jerusalem for much of the night as police arrested dozens of protesters for blocking traffic.
In its communique, Hamas called Rabin “terrorist No. 1" and said its military campaign was aimed at “the government of the Zionist enemy . . . [for] the comprehensive war it has waged against Islam and Muslims everywhere.”
Hamas and Islamic Jihad consider the peace agreement a sellout of their goals of establishing an Islamic state in a Palestinian homeland that covers what is now Israel.
On Monday, Hamas also claimed responsibility for the first time for a previous bus bombing in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, that killed six Israelis last month. It did not explain why it has changed its earlier practice of announcing the killer’s identity and celebrating him--or her--as a martyr.
In the event that the bomber turns out to be a woman, Police Minister Moshe Shahal said Israeli police and soldiers would have to step up their review of Palestinian women at roadblocks into Israel. “It means that we have to see them as potential attackers,” Shahal said.
Rabin said that, with the proximity in which Arabs and Jews live, even the best police work cannot prevent every terrorist attack. “In the reality of complete mingling between Palestinians and Israelis, it is hard to totally stop a madman who is ready to die, to commit suicide and hit Israelis,” he said.
This was illustrated in the events leading up to Monday’s explosion, which occurred a day after Israel lifted a 10-day closure of the Gaza Strip--territory under Palestinian control. That closure was imposed because Israeli security officials said they had intelligence that Hamas was planning to carry out an attack.
In a violent confrontation Friday, Palestinian police in Gaza arrested three members of Islamic movements that they and Israeli security sources suspected of planning a bombing attack. Israeli police said they also had dismantled a pipe bomb a week ago at the bus stop next to where the No. 26 city bus blew up Monday.
The fatal explosion occurred next to another crowded bus on the edge of an Orthodox neighborhood in northern Jerusalem. Both buses were headed Monday for Mt. Scopus, carrying many foreigners who were going to Hebrew language classes at Hebrew University’s campus there.
Witnesses described the mayhem--which has become almost ordinary--in graphic detail. “There was a huge explosion and the coffee cup fell from my hand,” said Meir Grego, who lives across the street from where the blast occurred. “We heard screams and saw smoke. People were running from the bus, some falling on the ground. There were bodies on the street.”
As members of a Jewish Orthodox burial society collected the remains, he added: “I’m getting calls from friends at [the northern border] asking if we’re all right. It used to be the other way around.”
The government immediately closed its borders again with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where more than 2 million Palestinians live, as emergency crews cleaned up the wreckage quickly. Within a few hours, the buses were hauled away and riders again waited at the stops along bus route No. 26.
The political aftermath is likely to be more lasting. Monday’s bombing provoked a wild rage from hundreds of witnesses and neighbors on the busy boulevard--many of them haredim who normally steer clear of Israeli politics. They stood, trembling in anger, with their children, watching the bloody cleanup and clashes of protesters with soldiers trying to keep order.
Even President Ezer Weizman--who has long advocated a slow approach to peace talks--was booed and prevented from speaking by an angry crowd. Rabin, who has visited the site of previous explosions, did not go to the scene, apparently believing his presence would further inflame the raw emotions.
Esther Chipman, who lives across the street from the site of the bus bombing and rides the No. 26 line, screamed at Israeli television cameras: “This is my home! I lost my family to the Nazis! There are 22 Arab states and only one Israel. The Arabs can go live there!”
Political analyst Tom Segev, of the daily newspaper Haaretz, predicted that the attack will strengthen Rabin’s right-wing opposition, which he will face in national elections next year.
“The Israeli people will not support the government if it cannot control terrorism,” Segev said. “No one feels that Israel as a country is in danger, but Israelis feel they are in danger. Terrorism brings out the irrational elements of hatred and fear--the two things we have to overcome if the government is going to go on with the peace process.”