2 Arab bombers kill 19, injure 50 near Israeli base

January 23, 1995|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

NETANYA, Israel -- Two bomb blasts -- the second timed to catch those rushing to aid the first victims -- killed 19 people and wounded more than 50 others outside an Israeli army base yesterday.

Two suicide attackers, Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, detonated the bombs at a bus station outside the base, according to a claim of responsibility by the militant Muslim group Islamic Jihad.

Most of the victims were soldiers returning to their base after weekend leave. The blasts shook the already wobbly public support in Israel for continued peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Israel's President Ezer Weizman, who holds a ceremonial but respected position, called for a halt to the negotiations.

"I would stop now the [peace] process for some time, and rethink. This cannot go on like this," he said during a hospital visit to the wounded. "We call it the peace process . . . but right now it is a bloody process."

But in an emergency meeting called by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Cabinet agreed last night to continue the talks. The Cabinet did vote to extend the length of detention without trial for Palestinians and to postpone further releases of 5,000 Palestinians still in Israeli prisons.

Islamic Jihad said the attack was revenge for the killing of three Palestinian policemen last month in a clash with Israelis and for the car-bomb murder of an Islamic Jihad functionary, Hani Abed, in November. Israel had hinted broadly that it was responsible for that bomb.

Five Palestinian bombs in the past 10 months aboard Israeli public buses or at bus stops have killed 58 people. After each one, the government has vowed to continue the peace process. But the repeated scenes of carnage have eroded public support for that perseverance.

"There are no words to describe the atrocity," Mr. Rabin said earlier in the afternoon after flying to the bombing scene by helicopter. He canceled an appearance at a gathering of Holocaust survivors to mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

"In the medium and long run, the solution is total separation between Israel and the [Palestinian] territories," Mr. Rabin said. But he acknowledged, "at this stage we are not yet prepared to do it."

Nevertheless, the Israeli army last night announced that it will temporarily seal off the West Bank and Gaza Strip from Israel. The announcement gave no time limit for the closure, which will keep thousands of Palestinians from their jobs in Israel.

Bus stop carnage

The blasts yesterday left a tableau of carnage at the bus stop just east of Netanya, 20 miles north of Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean coast.

Limbs and pieces of bodies were scattered for dozens of yards; trees were stripped of their branches, and two nearby cars were demolished by the blast; army duffel bags and clothing were strewn about.

"I've never seen anything like this," said a bewildered 20-year-old soldier who witnessed the blast. "There were burned bodies everywhere. Hands, legs, arms. But it was really weird: Right after the bombs, there was no screaming, no crying. It was silent."

The attack happened outside the Beit Lid army base, at a bus station used by soldiers and civilians.

"It's an obvious place to carry out an attack. It's full of soldiers," said a paratrooper.

Army personnel were instructed not to talk to reporters, and those who did would not give their names.

Fifty yards from the bus station, the Ashmoret prison contains Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Muslim fundamentalist group Hamas, who received a life sentence in 1991.

The first blast erupted about 9:20 a.m. in the front of a concrete-block snack shop at the bus stop. It blew a 10-by-6-foot hole in the building.

Witnesses differed about whether the second blast followed by only a moment or as long as 15 minutes. It caught some of those who had rushed to help the wounded.

Mr. Rabin said the second blast went off as soldiers tried to grab a man running from the scene.

"When I realized it was a bomb, I was afraid my wife had died," said teacher David Zachor, 45, who had just dropped his wife, Miriam, off at the bus stop. He rushed back and found her lying inside the snack bar with a neck wound, he said.

"I tried to give her first aid. I hoped someone would come to help, but everybody was in shock. Then there was a second explosion, two or three minutes later," he said. "There were people who tried to go inside to help, who were caught by the second explosion."

He and a soldier lifted his wife into his car and drove her to the hospital. She was in serious condition after surgery, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

The attack is especially worrisome for Israel because of the lethal mix of sophistication and fanaticism.

The bombs used yesterday contained powerful explosives. And the tactic of waiting for people to rush to the site of the first bomb before setting off the second is a gruesome one borrowed from places such as Algeria and Northern Ireland.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.