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Suicide bombers kill 15 in Jerusalem market Militant Islamic group Hamas claims responsibility for attack, demands release of all prisoners

July 31, 1997|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF Special correspondents Joshua Brilliant and Yaron Friedman contributed to this article.

Tzion Elyahu bore the marks of the terrorist attack -- his brown hair was singed white at his hairline; his right arm smoky and scorched. A chain-link gold bracelet was stuck to his burned right wrist. Charred bits of debris clung to his chest hairs.

"I was thrown into the air," the man said. "And then I hit the ground."

That morning Elyahu had visited a well-known rabbi in Jerusalem and sought a blessing for his son, who left for the army yesterday. "That's what saved me," he said.

Within 15 minutes of the attack, scores of Israeli soldiers swarmed through the market. Medics in orange vests hauled stretchers into the crowd to rescue the more than 170 people who were injured. Orthodox Jews in the skullcaps of the religious pulled on rubber gloves to begin the grim task of retrieving the body parts of the wounded and the dead.

"I saw the bodies, and I could recognize some of them," said

David Boneh, a pastry stall owner. "All the place is ruined, but thank God my friend and I are OK."

A few dozen Jewish youths shouted "Death to the Arabs" and "Kill them all" as they gathered in the marketplace.

Investigators leading bomb-sniffing dogs walked up and down the market aisles, while police searched garbage bins and stalls for suspicious objects. Many areas of the market escaped damage. Although some merchants said they could feel the explosion rumbling under their feet, their produce stalls remained orderly.

Fearful that another bomb might explode, police ordered shoppers and merchants out of the market. But some customers made last-minute purchases of parsley and bread as they left the market.

By late afternoon, bulldozers entered the market area to clear charred debris and spilled food from the streets.

Suspects rounded up

Israeli border police rounded up about two dozen men from the market area and held them about a block away in a pen fashioned from police barricades. The men sat on the pavement; their armed guards refused to let journalists talk with them.

Late last night, a government ministerial committee ordered Israel's armed forces to take action against suspected terrorists.

Israel's state-owned radio, quoting political sources, reported today that the order would allow defense and security forces to operate within Palestinian-controlled areas.

The radio said Israel would not be deterred from using special units in those areas if the Palestinian authority doesn't fight terrorism with determination.

The bomb blasts were the deadliest since Netanyahu was elected prime minister in May 1996. He campaigned on a promise of "peace with security."

The defeat of the Labor-led government of Prime Minister Shimon Peres was attributed to the series of bus bombings that hit Israel in spring 1996.

A leaflet distributed by Hamas called for the immediate release of its spiritual leader, the ailing Sheik Ahmad Yassin, and all other Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

The sheik was arrested by Israel in May 1989.

"The time to carry out our just demands starts from the date of this leaflet and ends at 9 o'clock Sunday evening, August 3," said the leaflet.

Pub Date: 7/31/97

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