Bombing Aboard Bus Kills 14 in Jerusalem
A suicide bomber detonated a powerful blast that tore through an Israeli bus packed with commuters and schoolchildren as it made its way through rush-hour traffic here this morning, killing about 14 people and injuring more than 30, police said.
The bombing came a day after Israeli police said they had “hot warnings” of suicide bombers heading for Jerusalem and the northern port city of Haifa, and a day after Israel assassinated a militant of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement near the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
Witnesses said the bus exploded near the busy southern Jerusalem Patt intersection shortly before 8 a.m. The explosion could be heard throughout the southern end of the city.
Jerusalem Police Chief Mickey Levy said he believed that the bomber got on the bus in the Palestinian village of Beit Safafa, inside the boundaries of southern Jerusalem, and blew himself up seconds after boarding.
“Yesterday we had a hot warning for Jerusalem, but it wasn’t focused,” Levy told Israel Radio. He said he had flooded the streets of the city with thousands of police officers and sent a helicopter aloft to patrol in hopes of catching any would-be bombers.
“Over the past month and a half,” Levy said, “we caught three suicide bombers on their way to Jerusalem. But sometimes we fail to intercept the attacker, like this morning, regrettably.” Levy said the city remains under warning of potential bombings in the days to come.
The force of this morning’s explosion ripped the roof off the bus, shattered its windows and melted part of its frame, said an Israel Radio reporter at the scene. Ambulances and rescue vehicles converged on the site and began carting the dead and wounded to hospitals.
“I am very worried that our students were on the bus,” said Rut Elmaliah, a teacher at a high school near the intersection who said she was driving to work when she saw the explosion. “I saw the bus flying up in the air,” said Elmaliah, who sobbed as she spoke to an Israel Radio reporter at the scene.
“I’m very worried. This is an hour when the bus is always crowded” with students heading for the school, she said. “I myself take it a lot, but it just so happened that this was a day I had the car.”
The attack came as Israelis and Palestinians await this week’s unveiling of President Bush’s vision for resolving their conflict. The bombing is likely to intensify calls within the Israeli Cabinet for a new large-scale military operation against the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
With Palestinian militants stepping up their attempts to attack Israelis inside the pre-1967 borders in recent days, right-wing Israeli Cabinet ministers have called on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to repeat the sweep through Palestinian-controlled areas that Israel launched in March. That operation, triggered by a suicide attack on a hotel where Israeli families were celebrating the Passover feast, was Israel’s largest military offensive in the West Bank since the Jewish nation captured it from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War.
Troops arrested hundreds of Palestinians, blew up makeshift weapons laboratories and trashed the offices of the Palestinian Authority’s ministries in Ramallah and other towns. Thousands of Palestinians were placed under curfew for weeks at a time.
But the Israeli security establishment said that although Operation Defensive Shield, as it was called, decreased the capabilities of militants to attack, it did not reduce their will to strike at Israelis. Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Sunday that it is now easier for militants to find willing suicide bombers than it is to find the explosives to give them.
Israel started building a fence Sunday running more or less along the pre-1967 border in an effort to keep out suicide bombers. But the fence is expected to take many months to complete. Avi Dichter, the head of Israel’s internal General Security Service, or Shin Bet, has repeatedly urged the government to reoccupy Palestinian towns and villages until the fence is completed.
Sharon has so far resisted that advice, but he will be under enormous pressure to take harsh military action in response to today’s attack.
Israel Radio reported that at least four more suicide bombers are believed to have been “launched” from the West Bank, among them two Palestinian women, who intend to carry out attacks inside Israel in coming days. Police have erected roadblocks and are searching cars and people in several major cities.