Israel to impose 'separation' line Peres responds to 3rd bombing with tight security

19 die in blast on bus

Ban on Palestinians in Jerusalem failed to stop Hamas attack

March 04, 1996|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF Contributing writer Joshua Brilliant provided information for this article.

JERUSALEM — A somber Prime Minister Shimon Peres, reeling from the bus bomb that killed 19 yesterday, vowed to impose "separation" between Israelis and Palestinians and ordered a massive buildup of security forces in the capital.

" We will fill this city" with police and soldiers, Mr. Peres said as he promised to wage a "all-encompassing war" on Muslim extremists who have set off three bombs in eight days.

Soon after he spoke, army trucks began to trundle into Jerusalem and numerous soldiers appeared on the streets. Mr. Peres said everyone who boards a bus will be inspected for bombs, and that the government will recruit 800 "excellent and experienced combat soldiers" to ride buses.

The latest in a two-year staccato beat of suicide bombings occurred aboard public bus No. 18 on Jerusalem's main street early yesterday.

The victims included 11 Israelis, 6 Romanian workers, an Ethiopian tourist and the suicide bomber, identified as a 24-year-old Palestinian from Hebron. Seven of the injured were in critical condition yesterday.

The Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying that it was the last retaliation for the assassination in January of Hamas bomb-maker Yehiya Ayyash, allegedly by Israeli agents.

Two bombings a week earlier also were said by Hamas to be in response to the Ayyash slaying, bringing the total killed in retaliation to 46.

Mr. Peres responded angrily when asked at a news conference if he agreed that the killing of Mr. Ayyash had been the cause of the bombings.

"Each time there is a suicide bomb or attack we should point a finger at ourselves? Why should we do that?" he snapped.

Jerusalem roiled with anger and despair yesterday. Residents were unnerved that such a powerful bomb could erupt in the heart of the city -- on the same bus route that was hit a week earlier -- despite a week-old ban on Palestinian entry into Israel and other security measures.

Throughout the day, police scuffled with Jewish protesters who held a loud vigil at the site of the bombing. The mangled bus had been quickly hauled away and the streets washed clean of blood. Demonstrators unsuccessfully stormed police barricades to try to get into Arab quarters of the Old City. At least one Palestinian was injured when he was stoned by Israelis.

Arab East Jerusalem was filled with police and soldiers after nightfall.

Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert appealed for calm, even as he criticized the national government's policy of peace with Palestinians.

Mr. Peres, worried that the peace plan and his bid for election might fall victim to the terrorism, announced tough measures to try to bolster security.

The separation plan he endorsed has broad implications. If implemented, it would entail a barrier between Palestinians and Israelis that would re-establish a border that Israel has tried for most of 29 years to erase.

Although the route of this "separation line" has not been set, it likely would segregate Israel from the West Bank roughly along Israeli's 1948 borders. Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, and Jewish settlers and the right wing have tried for years to make it a part of Israel.

"From now on, passage from one side to another will be supervised" and will be allowed only at certain crossing points, Mr. Peres said. He said the military will be given orders to prevent "illegal entry of vehicles and people" from Palestinian areas into Israel.

Although "closures" have been a common occurrence for nearly a decade, the line between the West Bank and Israel is invisible and guarded only by checkpoints on major roads. They can easily be circumvented on back roads and trails by Palestinians willing to risk arrest and fines. To find work, many Palestinians cross illegally, with the encouragement of Israeli employers.

Mr. Peres now has endorsed a plan favored by his assassinated predecessor, Yitzhak Rabin, that calls for strict segregation. He said the government will allocate $80 million for the separation line, which will require sections of fences, guards and electronic monitors along nearly 200 miles.

"Whoever thought it was possible to mingle us and the Palestinians was wrong," said Police Minister Moshe Shahal, who has pushed the plan.

Others are skeptical.

"What will separation do?" asked Knesset member Moshe Katsav of the Likud bloc. "It will not prevent terror. It will just give a green light to a Palestinian state."

"It's not a real answer," agreed Karmi Gillon, the former head of the internal security service. "Jerusalem is wide open, and there are a lot of Palestinians in Jerusalem."

The statement from Hamas claiming responsibility for yesterday's blast mocked the closure, saying it "will not prevent us from striking whenever and wherever we want."

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