Bombers hurt 11 Israelis in Gaza Strip In apparent retaliation, bus passengers, soldiers injured in suicide attacks

November 03, 1995|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- Palestinian suicide bombers injured 11 Israelis in the Gaza Strip yesterday in apparent retaliation for the assassination last week of the head of Islamic Jihad.

Two car bombs exploded minutes apart but caused no severe injuries among the Israelis, most of whom were aboard a bus. Both bombers were killed.

"It's a miracle," said bus driver Kiko Danino, who said he was blown off his seat by the explosion.

He was driving Israeli kindergarten teachers and baby sitters to work at a day-care center in the Gaza Strip when a Palestinian's car exploded near his bus. Army officials said an armored jeep shielded the bus from the blast. Three soldiers were injured.

A second suicide bomber on a nearby road apparently detonated his explosives when he saw an approaching bus about 70 yards away stop and turn around, Israeli army officers said.

The bombings were viewed with alarm as repercussions for the killing in Malta last week of Dr. Fathi Shakaki, the head of the extremist group Islamic Jihad, which has claimed responsibility for previous suicide bombings.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin acknowledged last night that the attack was likely related to the Islamic official's death.

Israel has not denied accusations that its secret service assassinated Dr. Shakaki, and Islamic groups have vowed revenge. The shooting of a Jewish settler on Wednesday and yesterday's bombings were seen as part of that reprisal, although no group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Perhaps more significantly, an official of the Palestinian Authority said the killing of Dr. Shakaki has broken up the delicate negotiations with Hamas, the largest radical Islamic fundamentalist group. Those negotiations were said to be on the verge of an agreement under which Hamas would suspend attacks on Israelis.

Marwan Kanafani, a spokesman for Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestinian Authority, called the attacks "a very regrettable incident." But he said that the assassination of Dr. Shakaki was "an escalation of the situation" that would bring, "for all of us, a very dear price."

Israel had imposed restrictions this week on Palestinians leaving the Gaza Strip, saying that officials anticipated an attack. Brig. // Gen. Yitzhak Eitan said yesterday that the car bombings in the Gaza Strip prove the need for the precautions. "We assumed there would be reaction by Islamic Jihad," he told Israel Radio. "We reduced the volume of those traveling on buses, and increased the convoys and security."

The semiautonomous Gaza Strip is policed by the Palestinian authority. But the Israeli army controls the major roads and provides escorts for approximately 4,000 Jewish settlers still living in settlements there. Palestinian police and the Israeli army operate separate checkpoints.

Yigal Kirshenzaft, secretary of the Neve Dekalim settlement in the Gaza Strip, complained yesterday that "the Palestinian roadblock is a joke. Arab cars travel freely on the roads, and nobody checks them."

Mr. Rabin said last night of the Palestinian authority: "We expect them to be more efficient in the areas under their jurisdiction. We shall repeatedly demand [it]."

The first bus attacked yesterday was traveling from an entrance to the Gaza Strip to a cluster of Jewish settlements called Gush Katif shortly after 7 a.m. It was escorted by two Army jeeps. As the convoy overtook a Palestinian car, the vehicle exploded. Officials said an armored jeep took the brunt of the blast.

"We just saw a cloud of fire," Mr. Danino, the bus driver, told Israel Radio. "I flew from the wheel and I saw the bus moving left, toward the side of the road. I got up, pulled the handbrake, and then the soldiers came and started to evacuate the passengers."

A hospital spokesman said most of the injuries were from "anxiety." An army spokesman declined to say whether the bus was one of the steel-protected buses used on some dangerous routes.

Upon hearing the first explosion, a convoy escorting a second bus turned around. Soldiers then saw a car far ahead on the roadside explode, General Eitan said.

Israeli opposition politicians blamed the government's peace efforts for the incident.

"This proves the government's plan to rely on Palestinian police to ensure Israeli citizens' security is wrong," said Knesset member Ovadia Eli, of the opposition Likud party.

But Arab and Palestinian officials have complained that peace efforts have been damaged by Israel's alleged role in the assassination of Dr. Shakaki.

The killing "destroys the meetings which are taking place between us and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad," said Mahmoud Dahlan, an aide to Mr. Arafat.

A Jewish settler shot Wednesday morning in the West Bank remained in serious condition yesterday. Rabbi Uzi Nevo, 32, was shot in the neck while driving toward a settlement near Ramallah.

The shooting prompted settler leaders to promise "a war" with Palestinians in the West Bank.

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