Profile: Suicide Bombing In Israel Threatens To Provoke An Israeli Military Response

Morning Edition: October 22, 2002

Suicide Bomb Kills 14 on Israeli Bus

BOB EDWARDS, host:

Another suicide bus bombing in Israel is threatening to provoke an Israeli military response. Fourteen Israelis were killed and scores wounded when a vehicle laden with explosives rammed a bus in northern Israel. It was the deadliest Palestinian suicide bombing in three months. It occurred as Israel is beginning to lift curfew restrictions on the West Bank and as the Bush administration is attempting to get the two sides back to the negotiating table. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:

Israeli investigators worked long into the night sifting through bloodied and burned debris scattered along a stretch of road just north of Hadera. Behind them, the charred skeletal remains of a bus created an eerie silhouette against the bright halogen police lights. The bottom of the vehicle fell out when wreckage crews finally tried to move it.

SOUNDBITE OF METAL CRUNCHING

NORTHAM: Israeli police say the crowded bus had just pulled into a stop near a popular shopping mall and two passengers were getting on when a four-wheel drive Jeep pulled up behind. Witnesses say seconds later, there was a roar as more than 200 pounds of explosives were detonated from within the Jeep. The blast ignited the bus's fuel tank and sparked a series of explosions which flattened several nearby vehicles and threw the Jeep carrying the explosives more than 100 feet from the bus. Several passengers were burned alive. Others escaped through the windows and were taken to a nearby hospital.

SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE TALKING

NORTHAM: There was confusion in the small emergency room as victims of the blast lay on stretchers in the hall and family members raced in looking for their relatives. Seventeen-year-old Loni Gino(ph) looked dazed as she held a compress to her head and explained what happened.

LONI GINO (Victim): (Through Translator) I was just talking to the person who was sitting next to me. And then suddenly, I felt all of this glass shattering and falling on me. I jumped over people and was climbing over people to get out. And I also climbed over the body of a soldier.

NORTHAM: Military officials say the bombing had been planned from the nearby West Bank town of Jenin, where a curfew was lifted only last week. Twenty-two-year-old Guy Levanthal(ph), who was also injured in the bombing, said he wasn't surprised there was an attack. He said things were usually calm when there was a curfew in the West Bank towns, but Levanthal said, the situation changes when the curfews are lifted.

Mr. GUY LEVANTHAL (Injured in Bombing): It's funny, but it's kind of routine now these days, you know. And I hope we do something. I hope they like close it again and find the people that--but that's what we can do. We only can find and attack single places, and, you know that that doesn't do a lot of good anyway, so.

NORTHAM: The militant Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack. The group said the bombing was to avenge what it called the massacre of Palestinians during recent Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemned the bombing. The attack comes just two days before William Burns, the US envoy to the region, is due to visit Israel. Mark Sofer, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, said the attack highlights the difficulties in trying to restart the peace process.

Mr. MARK SOFER (Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman): There is no quick fix. There is no magic solution to terrorism. How do you stop somebody strapping dynamite to their chest and blowing themselves up in front of little babies? How do you stop somebody driving a car laden with dynamite and parking it next to a bus? I don't think any country has the knowledge of how to exactly eradicate terrorism. What we are asking really for is for the Palestinians and the Palestinian leadership to help us end this fight.

NORTHAM: A senior Israeli government official said this recent bombing could affect a decision to withdraw the military from the West Bank city of Hebron. The United States has recently pressured the Israeli government to ease an army clampdown on Palestinian cities. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met with top security officials after the bombing, but there was no word if or what type of action might be taken in response to the attack. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Hadera.

EDWARDS: The time is 19 minutes past the hour.

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